What’s Your Legal Team’s Brand - Part 4

Laura Jeffords GreenbergLaura Jeffords Greenberg
Written by
Laura Jeffords Greenberg
September 27, 2022

How Does Legal Make You Feel?

In examining a legal team’s brand, Part 1 explored “what”, Part 2 examined “how”, and Part 3 discussed your users. Now it's time for the most challenging question: “why”.

Your team’s “why” is their purpose - the unifying concept of why your team exists. It should be your north star. It is the foundation for the legal department's strategy, objectives and plan.

If I asked your legal team what is your purpose, what would they say?

Based on my experience, I imagine a bored team, in monotone, saying “to mitigate legal risk”.

Richard Hackman, a prominent Harvard researcher, explained that successful teams always have a “clear, challenging and consequential purpose”[1]. The goal is to create an inspiring purpose; not a generic one.

Although the purpose of “mitigating legal risk” may be clear, for me, it is neither challenging or consequential. It lacks inspiration. I believe it is a failure because it is not tied to the bigger picture. I don’t understand how my role as legal counsel impacts and contributes to the vision of the company or society.

CEOs who inspire me share similar qualities - they are great salespeople. They are able to articulate: (a) a problem, (b) how their company solves that problem and (c) how the company will change the world by solving that problem. You can use a similar formula for articulating your legal team’s purpose.

This article will provide inspiration and tools for discovering your team’s purpose through:

(a) example statements for inspiration,

(b) 8 approaches to distil your purpose statement and

(c) a challenge to tie emotions into your purpose.

A. Examples

Examples are illustrative and can serve as a source of inspiration. Check out these purpose statements (aka mission statements):

  • Google: To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.
  • Microsoft: To enable people and businesses throughout the world to realize their full potential.
  • Intuit: To improve its customers’ financial lives so profoundly, they couldn’t imagine going back to the old way.
  • Starbucks: Establish Starbucks as the premier purveyor of the finest coffee in the world while maintaining our uncompromising principles while we grow.
  • DuPont: To create shareholder and societal value while reducing the environmental footprint along the value chains in which we operate.
  • Walmart: We save people money so they can live better.
  • Bain & Company: To help our clients create such high levels of economic value that together we set new standards of excellence in our respective industries.
  • Ferrari: To make unique sports cars that represent the finest in Italian design and craftsmanship, both on the track and on the road.

These illustrate how the company’s objective is tied to a vision - something bigger than the product or service itself.

B. Distilling Your Purpose

There are many approaches to distilling your why. I’ve listed eight methods to help your team extract their purpose. Try one or a combination of exercises.

1. Good Old Brainstorm

Brainstorm with your team. Consider the following questions:

  • What prominent challenges does the legal team solve? Why is there a legal team?
  • When you applied, why did you want to work at this company? For this team?
  • Who are our customers, and what do they value most? See Part 3.
  • What kind of image do we want to convey to our clients and customers?
  • What do you think our organization’s purpose is?
  • What do you like about working for our company and legal team?
  • What differentiates us from our competitors?
  • What are the underlying philosophies and principles shaped your responses to the previous questions?

2. Legal Risk Heat Map

Previously, you’ve listed out “what” your team currently does in Part 1. From that overview you have or can now map out the associated risks. Taking the organization’s 3-5 year plan, plot out the future legal risks.

Now, create a comparison or heat map of the current and future legal and regulatory risks. Analyze how effectively your team can minimize or mitigate those risks.[2] This is the value you add to the organization now and value you will add in the future. Can you expand this value into the company’s purpose or the impact your legal team wants to have on the world?

3. Imagine a World Without the Legal Team

Imagine a scenario where the legal team didn’t exist. How would the organization manage its legal work and risk? Could others within the company or external counsel do an effective job?[3] What would be the result?

The gap between the present and what’s missing when the legal team doesn’t exist is the value your team adds to the organization. Can you tie this value into the company’s purpose or the impact your legal team wants to have on the world?

4. Connecting to Individual Purpose

Try exploring the intrinsic motivations of your individual team members. Connecting individual motivations of team members with the overall purpose of the legal team adds consequence.

To find out what motivates your team, ask them. Recently, I’ve discovered Attuned, which is a software that analyzes employee’s intrinsic motivators. They list 11 key motivators: Altruism, Autonomy, Competition, Feedback, Financial Needs, Innovation, Progress, Rationality, Security, Social Relationships, and Status. You can start with a brainstorm from your team members or with Attuned’s motivators. Work to narrow it down to the top 3 motivators for the team. These motivators can be used to enhance the legal team’s purpose.

5. User Interviews

Ask your colleagues how they would define the legal department's purpose and aggregate the responses. Ideally, this process would highlight a common understanding of the value of the legal department across the organization.

For example, does the business see the legal team as a provider of legal advice in a crisis or a genuine business enabler who should be involved in big decisions at an early stage? This exercise can also help you align the legal team’s purpose with the management team’s expectations.[4] Use this feedback to craft a purpose statement.

If the feedback you receive and vision for the legal team don’t align - don’t worry. This is a great opportunity! Crafting a purpose statement to get from where you are to where you want to be is inspiring and exciting for the team.

6. Top-Down Approach

Have the legal team dive into the company’s strategic plan and mission statement. If these aren't documented, ask senior executives to articulate the vision and summarize the main elements. How does the legal team help support this vision? Tying the legal team’s purpose to the company’s mission can give it added weight.[5]

7. Strengths and Benefits

Take a look at your team members strengths, skills and core competencies. You can discuss these or use one of my favorite activities - Gallup’s StrengthFinder . Create a list of benefits and values you can offer the company through your department's strengths, skills and competencies. This is the value the legal team brings to the company beyond traditional legal advice. This can be a motivating and inspiring addition to the team’s purpose statement.

8. Build Your Ideal Legal Team

Assume the business doesn’t need a legal team. Start from having no legal team and create your ideal vision for the legal team of the future. What value would this new function add to the company? What changes would it usher in? Tie this vision and positive impact into your purpose statement.

C. Emotional Work

The hardest and most time consuming step of this process is crafting a succinct and inspirational purpose statement.

Once you have a draft purpose statement, try validating it against the emotions you want your legal team to evoke in your users.

Remember back, in Part 2, you explored emotions associated with your legal services. To improve your purpose, how can you bring the emotions you want your users to feel after they have used your services into your purpose statement?

Once you have a publicly shareable draft, ask for feedback and validation from your users. Keep iterating until your team is excited by a purpose statement that is clear, challenging and inspiring.

Congrats! You’ve come a long way. You’ve established your “what”, “how”, identified your users, and team’s purpose! Up next in the final installment of this series is how to tie it all together to brand your team.

Up Next: Brand + Branding: What’s Your Legal Team Marketing Plan?


[1] Leading Teams – Setting the Stage for Great Performances by Richard Hackman (2002). by Margaret Hagan.

[2] The Center for Legal Leadership - Building a Legal Team’s People Function

[3] Id.

[4] Thomson Reuters Practical Law - Aligning the legal department with a company's strategy, vision and values

[5] Thomson Reuters Practical Law - Aligning the legal department with a company's strategy, vision and values