Three ways procurement can win over legal colleagues

28 August 2020

Learning the jargon and educating yourself on legal issues is crucial for procurement professionals to win over their legal colleagues.

Silvia Hodges Silverstein, executive director of the Buying Legal Council, an international trade organisation for legal procurement, said buying legal services without the help of procurement “borders on negligence”.

Speaking on a CIPS podcast on Buying Legal Services, Hodges Silverstein said it is essential to know market prices and to understand which firm or legal service supplier in an area or industry could create the most value. 

“It helps to bring in procurement to help benchmark, to assess the market and the competition and to make the right decisions. Procurement takes a more business-driven approach that helps to make the unpredictable predictable and the unplannable plannable. Reducing complexity and assessing risk are core competencies of procurement.”

Hodges Silverstein shared her tips for procurement professionals looking to build positive relationships and prove their value to legal counterparts:

1. Learn the jargon

“Historically in-house lawyers are often not fans of procurement and procurement processes, but that has changed a bit in the last few years. You really have to start with building a relationship with legal. Sit with your colleagues in legal and schedule regular meetings, ask them questions, understand their issues,” she said.

“Don't do procurement to them, learn how they speak, learn the legal jargon and come up with different options or scenarios. Lawyers are trained to argue and find fault so if you show them different scenarios, they can then reason about which one is the most fitting and the most appropriate solution, and are more likely to embrace it.”

Hodges Silverstein added it was important to listen to legal teams and understand how they make decisions. 

“Find out what works for them and what doesn't work for them. Educate yourself on what are the particularities that lawyers hold very dearly and offer your help. Do the things that they don't like doing and that would be something that endears you to them.”

2. Do the legwork

Hodges Silverstein said it was important for procurement professionals working on buying legal services to demonstrate they are willing to put in the hard work to secure the right supplier.

“When you issue an RFP do the analytics, but you need to understand first what is important to legal and research alternatives. Make it clear that you are aware of their concerns and you're not just about the cheapest price and all these things that procurement always gets accused of,” she continued. 

“Understand what keeps them up at night. It's always good to understand how they are measured, because that will drive at least some of their behaviour. Use all of this when you make suggestions for different processes, analysis or choices.”

3. Clear comparisons

While it's important to present your analysis and insights, make sure to avoid getting bogged down in overly complicated maths, Hodges Silverstein said.

“Distinguish clearly between cost savings and have clear apples to apples comparisons that they can agree with and really easily accessible charts and tables,” she said.  

Building close relationships with legal operations teams is also crucial in order to have access to the data procurement needs to really prove their value.

“They typically are the stewards of the data that you need so you can quickly control the billing system and the matter management system. Unless you are involved, they are the ones that typically guard the relationship with inside and outside counsel,” Hodges Silverstein added.

“Be fast and flexible so when they call you from legal to run an RFP, do it quickly because the last thing that you want to be seen as is the bottleneck.”

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