Over the past decade or so, there’s been a changing of the guard in the legal services industry. As businesses of all sizes have grown more mindful of the bottom line, traditional legal models are revealing their limitations – both in terms of cost and efficiency – opening the door to innovative solutions designed to meet a growing need.
One alternative gaining tremendous momentum is the on-demand general counsel model, also referred to as part-time general counsel, outsourced counsel, or outside general counsel. Our company, Outside GC, has been a leader of this approach since 2002.
Here are 5 key attributes of the on-demand general counsel model that make it worthy of your consideration:
Value-driven servicesThe inherent value of on-demand general counsel services is clearest when compared with traditional options for legal services – engaging traditional law firm counsel or hiring a full-time in-house lawyer. Compared to traditional law firm partners with similar levels of experience, the hourly rates of attorneys in a part-time general counsel model are typically a fraction of the cost (Outside GC’s lawyers, for example, typically bill at less than one-third the prevailing hourly rate at large firms in our markets). But hourly rate is just part of the equation. The time it takes a lawyer to complete a task – and how many lawyers get involved in the project – also drives cost. Most on-demand general counsel services firms are made up of seasoned lawyers with substantial and pertinent industry experience. They typically handle their work on their own, without involving a whole team of lawyers. The resulting efficiency, of both rate and project completion time, leads to a marked reduction of cost, while delivering high value. Additionally, lawyers offering part-time general counsel services rarely have billable hour targets to meet, which means that they are not under pressure to “pad” hours or overwork a deal.
Similarly, on-demand counsel is more cost effective than hiring a full-time in-house attorney if your budget is already stretched or you do not anticipate enough work to keep a full-time lawyer busy. Above all else, the combination of seniority and practical business approach means lawyers offering part-time general counsel services do not spend time getting trained on your dime. You get only what you need, and pay for exactly what you get.
Practical, business-centric adviceThe experience in-house lawyers gain from being part of a senior management team translates into a practical understanding of the business objectives underlying a company’s legal work, and results in an adept approach to working alongside management teams, providing practical risk assessments, industry benchmarks and other strategic advice. This is in sharp contrast to the “academic” approach taken by many lawyers from traditional law firms, who’ve never personally been in the shoes of their clients. Moreover, experienced in-house lawyers have a working knowledge of the day-to-day issues that often compete for attention (such as managing a staff, balancing a budget and hitting quarterly revenue targets) with larger organizational goals. Finally, the business acumen of an in-house lawyer enables a quick turnaround and responsiveness that most traditional firm lawyers do not deliver.
Flexible, customized offeringsFlexibility is the core of a part-time general counsel model, with services customized to meet the different and often changing needs of any company. Outside GC’s services, for example, can be purely on-demand (hourly); project-based or arranged to fill a short-term, de facto general counsel function. For start-up and early stage companies, a part-time general counsel typically helps with any number of day-to-day legal issues, including contract negotiating and drafting, lease review, employment matters, and proactive risk management. For larger companies with an in-house staff, a part-time in-house lawyer can be deployed to provide overflow assistance when the internal team is stretched, due to spikes in workload or leaves of absence, or provide subject matter expertise that may not exist on the in-house team. In either case, lawyers offering part-time general counsel services can jump on projects and integrate into teams with less oversight and guidance because of their in-house experience.
Well-Rounded ProfessionalsThe best in-house lawyers have a solid mix of experience from working in both traditional law firms and as in-house counsel. At Outside GC, we only hire lawyers with at least 10 years of combined experience, including in-house legal experience as either general counsel or as a senior in-house attorney, as well as considerable time in private practice at well-known law firms. The result is a legal advisor who can offer a valuable perspective typical of outside counsel, in addition to the keen business sense of an in-house executive.
Unique lawyer-client relationshipIn a typical on-demand general counsel arrangement, clients work primarily with one lawyer, rather than the leveraged partner/associate/paralegal model utilized in traditional firms. This approach allows clients to develop a close working relationship with that one lawyer, which in turn to allows the lawyer to acquire valuable knowledge about the company and build relationships with key players on the management team. In many instances, part-time general counsel are available to work on site at the company as needed, and often don’t charge clients for travel time. This regularity of interaction means that they can function like adjunct members of the company’s legal department, available for quick questions in the hallway or lunches in the cafeteria. In some part-time general counsel firms, clients also get the benefit of access to other lawyers on the team. For example, at Outside GC we have more than 50 attorneys, all with various skill sets and industry experience, so our clients effectively get access to the knowledge base of 50+ seasoned lawyers.
With these substantial benefits available to your company, it is simply good business sense to consider hiring a part-time general counsel for handling your company’s day-to-day legal work.