I was reading an article over the weekend from the June 17, 2013 issue of Canadian HR Reporter entitled HR, Lawyers Work Hand in Hand. The headline provided “1 in 4 HR pros consider legal team a strategic partner”. For my part I don’t equate 1/4 as being “hand in hand”.
While I recognize that the article is dated, and the numbers may not be accurate, I suspect that they’re pretty close.
In general terms, there are two ways to work with your lawyer:
- Strategic partner; or
- Transactional basis (as needed/hired-gun).
According to the article 28% of HR professionals surveyed consider their lawyer a “strategic business partner” and another 26% get their lawyer involved “in some aspects of strategic planning”. Forty-six (46) percent of those surveyed involve their lawyer on a transactional basis only.
Being a valued and trusted member of the business team is, of course, the goal. You’d like the title of the article to be “100% of HR pros consider their legal team a strategic partner”, but that seems to be wishful thinking.
HR practitioners understand this all too well and from their own perspective. In a Forbes article (also from 2013), 4 Ways To Become A Strategic Business Partner (And Why You Should Want To), the issue was discussed with some reference specifically to HR. The author notes:
Over the past ten years or so, I’ve noticed that ‘being a strategic partner’ has become a kind of mantra for HR people everywhere. Generally, they seem to mean, “we’d like to be included the conversations where the future of the business gets determined, and have a real voice in those conversations.”
The goal is to have a “seat at the table” (an overused buzzword), whether you’re the HR practitioner or the lawyer.
I think that HR could be utilized more effectively by operations as I think HR/operations can work more effectively with their external counsel. That being said, there are a lot of reasons why things are as they are, and legal cost is certainly a consideration as is confidence, history and experience.
There is nothing more deflating than getting a call in the afternoon on the day before a decision is being implemented and being asked for your “opinion”. There’s no real ability to meaningfully assist or advise the client because, quite clearly, you’re not getting the call to help, but as a “check a box” exercise and to get the “lawyer’s blessing” (of HR’s blessing), which may not come, depending on the circumstances.
Anyway, I found the article a great read and a reminder that it’s tough work to get into that trusting relationship where you’re seen as a “strategic partner” rather than a necessary evil.