Large businesses have in-house general counsel, a lawyer (or many lawyers) who are employed full-time to provide legal advice for day-to-day company problems, deal with litigation issues, navigate a maze of regulatory issues, and generally keep the company out of legal trouble.
Smaller businesses, from start-ups to lower middle market, can experience many of the same advantages with less cost by using an outsourced general counsel.
An outside general counsel is an attorney with a legal team who the business engages to be available to consult with on day-to-day questions that have a legal component, or just to give some practical advice, without the expense and administrative burden of hiring that person as a full-time employee.
Your outside general counsel will make the investment of time and attention to get to know you and your business.
Legal Audit. A first priority is to conduct a legal audit, where your counsel will review your legal documents, contracts, loan documents, license, leases, employment agreements, intellectual property protection, and more. This simple review often uncovers issues that need attention, or problems bubbling under the surface.
Business Goals. Another priority is for your outsourced general counsel to understand your business goals, both short-term and long-term, and to actively participate on your management team.
Personal Goals. A key to helping you is to understand your personal goals as a business owner. Do you want to hold on to this business long term? Do you want to sell it soon? Do you want to transfer it to family members? These goals have an impact on planning and decisions you’ll need to make now and in the future.
Change Is The Constant. As your business pivots to meet the changing economy and societal expectations, your needs and goals will also change over time. An experienced outside general counsel can help you deal proactively with both issues and opportunities your business faces.
You don’t know what you don’t know. Because of his or her extensive experience in business, an outside general counsel will be able to proactively guide and support the growth of your business.
An added benefit? If your outsourced general counsel is not an expert in a particular matter, he or she generally works with a team of lawyers with exactly the experience you need. It may be a person inside the firm, or it may be someone in a boutique firm that focuses exclusively on your specific need, such as patent filings, IRS litigation, or a specific regulatory matter. Your outside general counsel will likely have worked with these subject matter experts in the past and can manage the work of those experienced lawyers or consultants who can deliver exactly the services you need at a lower cost than the big-name lawyer or law firm you found on Google.
A good outsourced general counsel can provide perspective on the challenges facing your business.
Business and Legal. Most business questions are not purely business questions. They generally have a legal component as well. For example, hiring decisions have tax consequences. Stock grants have corporate and securities laws questions. Intellectual property law questions pop up frequently. You may not see the legal issue at the time it arises, but you don’t want to miss it, or it may come back to haunt you.
Been There, Done That. For many business owners, running the business can be an ongoing stream of new challenges. This may be the first time you’ve encountered an issue. But an experienced outside general counsel has seen your problem many times and can offer practical advice to cut through the confusion and solve the problem.
Taking The Long View. A business has a life cycle. There is a beginning, startup stage; a middle, growth stage; and usually an exit stage. An experienced outside general counsel has seen this life cycle many times and will quickly understand where your company is in the cycle. More importantly, he or she can help you understand your options at each stage, and counsel you on how to make choices that will expand your options in the future, rather than decrease them.
Lawyers are expensive, right? Not always. If you choose your outsourced general counsel well, you will receive a lot of value for a reasonable fee. An outside general counsel will work with you to provide a set of services you want, at a price you can afford. Often the arrangement is a flat monthly fee for day-to-day consultations. Your outside general counsel should provide a list of everything he or she will do for you each day, week, and month. The goal is to seamlessly deliver the services an in-house employee would deliver, using a team-based approach, resulting in significantly less cost to you as the business owner.
EXPERT MENTOR AND CONFIDANT
Think of a good outside general counsel as a business subject matter expert who you can call on as your mentor and confidant. He or she can be invaluable in helping you understand the deeper implications of a business issue and in choosing the best alternative to resolve it and move forward. Your outside general counsel will provide a full menu of services that will help you strategically focus on the legal side of the business decisions you make each day. What’s best? Your outside general counsel will perform these services for significantly less than you would pay to hire one person to serve as general counsel to your business. Now that’s a good value proposition.