Drafting A Personal Business Plan To Drive Professional Success

Drafting A Personal Business Plan To Drive Professional Success

While it may, initially, seem counter-intuitive for in-house counsel to use a traditional business plan to structure a professional development plan, there’s a tangible reason why businesses rely on these succinct plans to enable sound strategic decisions. If in-house counsel approach their career as their personal “business,” the business plan is quite valuable. Prior to becoming the Assistant Clinical Professor at Santa Clara University School of Law’s Entrepreneurs’ Law Clinic, Laura Lee Norris was the first Vice President of Legal Affairs at Cypress Semiconductor Corporation. She achieved this unprecedented position by creating a compelling business plan to bring the CEO and senior leadership on board with her vision.

Key Business Plan Components

A business plan consists of seven key elements:

  • an executive summary clearly informing the reader about the author’s goals;
  • a business description containing a short description of the present and future states of the industry (including a market overview and new developments);
  • a careful market analysis defining the target market and describing how the company can be positioned to penetrate it;
  • a competitive analysis outlines the competitors’ strengths and weaknesses, barriers to entry, and any weaknesses that can be exploited;
  • a design and development plan describing the product’s design, outlining its development, and creating a development budget;
  • an operations and management plan describing how the business functions daily — its logistics, organization, assigned tasks within the company, and capital and expense requirements; and
  • any successful business plan must use financial data as its backbone, especially in the planning stages.

Tailoring the Plan to In-House Counsel

Norris’ plan focused on the specific services the legal department would provide, explained that the legal department would be a first responder and spelled out that she would engage outside counsel when required for complex or specialized legal issues. While traditional business plans look at financials associated with sales revenue, Norris’s plan demonstrated how much money she could save the company based on the strategic investments and implementation of her plan. Norris spent months gathering information about the company’s legal vendors and collecting historical billing data. “Ultimately, I was able to collect, analyze, and report on what the company was spending and got a clear picture of the opportunities that a general counsel could bring to Cypress,” said Norris. By identifying areas where Cypress was spending money on outside counsel, she could show Cypress how much money she could save them.

Norris’ marketing plan similarly focused inward and dealt with how to satisfy her “customers”: her engineers and business partners. At the time, most of the company’s key business stakeholders were working directly with outside counsel. “I knew I had to convince key business partners to take a leap of faith and call the internal legal department first rather than reaching out directly to outside counsel,” Norris explains. Norris met with key business stakeholders, interviewed them on what was working and what wasn’t in the existing model and convinced them to give her department a chance to resolve an issue, close the deal and, eventually, become a true strategic partner. “My market strategy involved ensuring the legal department attorneys were problem-solvers rather than roadblocks, and perceived as collaborators,” Norris says.

Using concrete metrics to build trust

Norris knew that a new legal department for Cypress couldn’t happen overnight. “I wrote a business plan that contemplated a five-year hiring plan for lawyers and legal personnel, showing how each hire would strategically save the company money,” explained Norris. Another mechanism Norris suggested and later implemented was a “legal operations review” process. This helped the legal department obtain more trust from the CEO and senior leadership, and bring the department more in line with the company’s core value to measure performance and then “make our numbers.” “I noticed that the other product, manufacturing, and design groups held quarterly operations reviews with senior management where they reported on key metrics that applied to their organizations,” said Norris. “I realized that if the legal department did the same, then it would give greater visibility into its operations,” she explained. This strategy also helped build trust outside the company. “Setting and measuring key metrics for the legal department would give us more credibility with our clients, who are mostly engineers.”

To solidify her metrics-based approach, Norris proposed the creation of formal legal processes. “Because Cypress was a manufacturing company, we implemented written procedures (“specs”) to comply with ISO standards. It was a core company value that all employees ‘follow the spec or change it.’” Norris explained. “The legal department started to identify and document key processes within our function, and create formal written specifications.” While this may seem commonplace now, at the time, this was a groundbreaking approach for a technology company in Silicon Valley and greatly appealed to the entire Cypress executive team.

Norris observes, “Going through the exercise of writing a business plan proved to be very useful. Not only did I get a greater understanding of Cypress’ business and needs, but doing so also allowed me to be more effective in my roles with the company and the board of directors.” Norris used her research and data analysis to successfully and effectively convince her CEO to invest in her “business.” Using this structured approach and tailoring it to her specific needs, Norris was also able to demonstrate that she can speak a language business partners understand, and this is something in-house counsel should always be doing to optimize professional success, increase self-awareness and demonstrate your value.

This article was originally published on Above the Law.

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