This is summarizing the substance of the frustrating and disappointing relationships between them that lawyers and business people have experienced for decades. Over time, lawyers were restrictively seen by business people as litigation managers, documentation suppliers or deal breakers.
On a day to day cooperation basis, business people usually believe that lawyers are not responsive, that they are red tape makers and that they speak a jargon that they are the only ones to understand. Lawyers commonly believe that business people act before thinking, that they are no good listeners and that they awfully lack legal basic knowledge. Lawyers are often suspected of not being "business oriented", meaning advising without taking into account the economic side of the question. Business people are seen by lawyers as taking too many risks for the sole sake of signing a contract without assessing the related adverse conséquences.
However, business people need lawyers and lawyers need business people (or is it the other way round?). Therefore, it is more than worthwhile for them to get on well, for the benefit of the company that they are both working for. In this continuously and fast changing world, law has become so pregnant and complex that no business man can afford today ignoring it or shying away from being advised by an expert in law, without putting his business at risk. Lawyers are aware that business people are their internal customers and are eager to show them that they definitely play a role in the value creation chain.
Do YOU business people know what you can reasonably expect from in-house lawyers? What you should not expect from them? As a lawyer, let me give you some clues to make the most of your in-house lawyers, ie to use them in the most efficient manner.
Do not use them just as contract writers or reviewers; let them participate in negotiations with the co-contractor, whoever the latter is; but do not let them step in one hour before the closing of the deal with the customer sitting at the negotiation table, ready to sign ! Do not assess them according to how quick they are able to answer: being reactive has nothing to do with being able to provide reliable or innovative solutions.
You can expect your lawyers to be solution providers, which does not mean miracle makers (don't ask them to misconstrue the law just to fit your purpose). You can expect them to help you making a decision, by assessing legal risks versus expected returns of a contemplated operation provided that you give them sufficient and relevant details of such operation; in no way expect them to make a decision in your place.
You can even expect them to anticipate legal issues that they will spontaneously address, provided that you feed him /her with regular updated information on the business; to unveil legal opportunities thanks to a close legal watch and some sort of imagination to design legal engineering. Some of them may also have good ideas on business strategy!
My personal advice: speak to them the language of risk management that you two share; law is a risk to manage as any others: they will be able to provide solutions around reduction, transfer or elimination of legal risks. As Confucius said: "no business may be done without a common language to speak". Risk management language is to me the new Esperanto of business, reconciling lawyers and business people.