Ahead of the launch of The Definitive Guide to Buying Legal Services, contributor Nick Williams gives his perspective on the challenges the legal sector is facing and how procurement professionals can best engage with them to develop effective cost-saving solutions.

The time-restrictive demands of working in a legal services environment can often mean that procurement falls further back on the agenda. To add to this, while my colleagues working in law are incredibly astute in managing risk, their knowledge of how to implement the multitude of available commercial options tends not to be as far-reaching.

With the impact of the pandemic forcing cost reductions across businesses, the need for legal departments to be even more commercially aware is being added to their already incredibly long to-do list. This where the value in effective procurement and negotiation comes to the fore.

But, to work effectively with legal services, we must get under the skin of their business challenges and reset our approach to procurement. In my opinion, there are three key methods to establishing a strong working relationship with legal services.

Establishing trust and building the narrative

The key to building any collaborative relationship, but especially one where there is less familiarity with procurement, is creating a mutual understanding of your roles and purpose. For procurement to be seen as a strategic partner, we must first be clear in outlining why there are there to help.  

Key to this is empathy and knowing your clients challenges inside and out. To do this, we must ask the right questions and understand the wider context. As this is developed, you can better build the narrative of your role and help to illustrate your commercial and organisational value.

This is crucial to building the reputation of the procurement team, demonstrating our impact goes beyond a function which procures ‘things’ and that purchasing power is transformative.

Data-driven operational approach

In my own experience, legal teams have struggled to identify where cost-savings can be made by bringing functions in-house or ensuring there is a process by which performance data is gathered by suppliers.

It’s fair to say that this could be because legal teams are less driven by measurement and quantitative results, therefore your client may not be thinking about external costs and suppliers strategically.

By establishing a data-driven operational approach and encouraging your client to implement data capture across the business, you will be setting them up for success – the cost-savings and business transformation will come later.

A sourcing strategy journey

Often legal teams are (rightly) pre-occupied with litigation or large pieces of legislation such as exit from the EU, GDPR or IR35, meaning procurement and supplier contracts are regularly back of mind.

Creating a sourcing strategy upfront will bring into scope conversations that are difficult to have later on, such as the decision behind a key external instruction or where external costs are coming from.

This strategy is crucial to ensure contracts are in place and can be adapted from other sectors such as IT, establishing the operating model; technologies; suppliers; geographies; commercial and execution.

Developing this model early on and taking the client through the process will bring stakeholders together and ensure that you take them on the procurement journey from start to finish, further building trust in your working relationship.

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