What CLOs can learn from the product counsel’s lens

A product-oriented approach to in-house lawyering

Product lawyers often speak the same language and support the same goals as those who work in the lines of business. Even if your organization doesn’t have a product counsel—or even a formal product team—your legal team can benefit from knowing more of what a product counsel knows.

Striking the right balance

The CLO’s role is expanding to areas that haven’t traditionally been under the legal team’s purview.1 At the same time, CLOs are noting an increasing workload,2 and 13% of surveyed legal leaders say they’re confident they can manage cross-functional risks without impeding the business.3

In navigating these expanding demands on their time, legal leaders are being called upon to find the right balance between risk mitigation on the one hand, and helping the organization innovate and reach its business objectives on the other. Striking the correct balance may require legal departments to rethink how they interact with their internal clients. When your legal department models its business style after the clients it serves, it goes a long way toward building a reputation as a trusted business advisor. But how?

Approaching your work like a product lawyer model may help. Product lawyers are often known for how they interact with their clients. Taking a closer look at how they operate can provide examples of how legal departments can elevate their value within the organization. Successful product lawyers:

  • Understand how product works
  • Know the short-and long-term goals of the product teams they support
  • Immerse themselves in the language, cadence, and practice of product methodology

Whether or not your organization has embraced product methodology or not, your legal department can become better and more trusted legal advisors by adopting the skills product lawyers use to serve their clients. To see if a product lawyer approach could benefit you and your legal team, answer the following questions.

Becoming a trusted business advisor: What CLOs can learn from the product lawyer’s lens

What is product, and what is a product team?

Product: When we refer to “product” in this article, we’re using the term to describe a methodology used to develop and improve consumer offerings (for example, software or service). We don’t mean a widget, a consumer good, or other tangible items.

Product team: Product teams are comprised of a cross-functional group of specialists who continuously innovate and improve on the customer experience. They do this by working to understand the customer’s needs and pain points in the current experience.4

Has your organization adopted product methodology?

Because of its origins, many people think of product as something unique to technology companies. But product methodology can be (and often is) used by any business focused on improving the customer experience.5 Experiences such as streamlining your client’s grocery delivery process, managing a customer’s change of address process, or adding new payment options at e-checkout are all customer experiences that could be improved by leveraging product methodology.

If your organization doesn’t have formal product teams, can the product approach still work for you?

Not every organization has formal product teams, but companies typically dedicate significant time and resources toward improving their consumer offerings and the customer experience. The businesspeople working in this space, whether they’re technically called product teams or not, likely employ methods that could benefit from a different type of interaction with their in-house legal advisors.

Product counsel are skilled at embedding with the business team, understanding their goals, and intervening early when potential legal roadblocks loom ahead—and other lawyers might benefit from taking a similar approach. If a business team is in the early stages of a new project, the attorney may earn praise for saving wasted effort and not pulling the rug out from under a team’s efforts.

Does your organization have lawyers dedicated to privacy, data protection, marketing, advertising, regulatory, contracts, intellectual property, or consumer protection?

While all in-house attorneys might benefit from thinking like a product counsel, there are some attorneys who should be particularly well-suited to this mindset.

Attorneys specialized in the areas listed in this question are likely already skilled at working across multiple business units and are expected to define boundaries for the business in these collaborative spaces. What might be new to these attorneys—and what is standard operating procedure for a product counsel—is the need to:

  • Deeply understand the product team’s goals
  • Calibrate legal guidance based on the risk tolerance at various stages of a product
  • Move quickly, even in areas that are new to them or evolving

Not all organizations have product teams and product counsel. But using the product methodology and approaching work from the product lens could help all the lawyers on your team shift toward a more client-centric (or “product”) model of legal practice to enhance the value of the services they provide. Here are examples of how successful product lawyers operate and what your non-product counsel can think about to help them become trusted business advisors for their clients:

Bringing a legal perspective to strategic business decisions

As the CLO looks for ways to elevate the legal function to that of a trusted business advisor, approaching future work with the mindset of a product lawyer may help the legal function (and possibly everyone on the legal team no matter the discipline) become trusted legal and business advisors in their own right.

End notes

1 Association of Corporate Counsel, “Chief Legal Officers Survey: Key findings,” accessed September 7, 2022.
2 Deloitte, “A tale of trust and transformation: Highlights from the 2022 CLO and CCO strategy survey,” June 2022.
3 Legal Practice Intelligence, “Legal technology: Trends and predictions by Gartner,” February 14, 2022.
4 Jianoa Zhang, “Think like a product manager: How all leaders can thrive by thinking from the problem space,” Forbes, May 2, 2022.
5 Jace Grebski, “Integrating customer experience design into your product process,” Originate, accessed September 7, 2022.

Get in Touch

Lori Lorenzo
Chief Legal Officer Program Research and Insights Director
Managing Director | Deloitte Risk and Financial Advisory
Deloitte Transactions and Business Analytics LLP

Erin Hess
Chief Legal Officer Program Research and Insights Manager
Manager | Deloitte Risk and Financial Advisory
Deloitte Transactions and Business Analytics LLP

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