As a start-up company founder, I have used what is termed “one-off” legal services. My legal needs have been for one-time events, like incorporation or filing a trademark, and I have worked with individual attorneys from several law firms.
One-off is at one end of the spectrum of corporate legal services. In-house general counsel is at the other. An in-house counselor is an individual attorney a company would employ full-time to handle its corporate legal affairs. In my locale, full-time, in-house counsel would run my company about $150K per year.
My company’s revenues currently cover one-off legal services and I look forward to the day when an in-house attorney can join our corporate team. In the meantime, I have gotten excellent legal advice from several attorneys over the four years of my company’s history. I understand the one-off business model, however. My onesy-twosy needs do, and should, put me in the queue behind those of higher-paying clients. As a start-up founder, everything seems urgent to me, but I truly have not had an urgent legal need. My turn comes and my phone calls and emails are returned.
As my company grows, however, particularly when I begin to have several dozen employees (what start-up is thinking about ERISA compliance?) I will need instant access to an attorney. A one-off relationship won’t be fast enough and I won’t be able to afford in-house counsel. What's a growing company to do?
I first learned of “outside general counsel” from Brian Wheeler when he joined LeClairRyan, a client of Handshake Media. For a monthly retainer fee - for example, $5K per month or $60K per year, - a company can have the equivalent of in-house advice from a law firm’s team of attorneys. If I were an outside general counsel client of LeClairRyan, Brian Wheeler might be my go-to attorney. If I had a question, he would advise me, or consult with the experts in his firm to advise me, or put me directly in touch with them.
The benefits of outside general counsel seem myriad to me: access to expertise from individuals and from a team with fixed costs for legal fees. What is most appealing, however, will require a confession: because I am a one-off legal services client, I hesitate before I contact an attorney, knowing the impact that hourly rate will have on my start-up’s budget. When I have an established company's revenue, if I were an outside general counsel client, my retainer would have already “paid” for help. If an issue arose that seemed like it might be a problem, I would readily contact my attorney before it became one.
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Sponsored by LeClairRyan, a law firm with deep entrepreneurial roots, having originally been founded as a venture capital boutique. With more than 350 attorneys and offices from Virginia to New York to California, the firm provides business counsel and client representation in matters of corporate law and high-stakes litigation. Its mission is to achieve excellence for its clients by providing integrated, responsive and timely services.