In-House Counsel Too Costly? Have You Considered Using Virtual Counsel?

{3:20 minutes to read}

How can small and mid-sized businesses secure high-caliber legal advice?

Large companies often have a general counsel on staff who is paid a salary and receives benefits to provide legal advice to the company. The general counsel may perform some legal services themselves and may also retain outside counsel, whom they will supervise, to provide other services as needed. Smaller companies have the same needs and deserve the same quality of legal services and advice; however, employing an in-house general counsel is usually not cost effective for such companies.

Often times, small and mid-size companies may retain lawyers on an ad hoc basis. For example, a company may need to negotiate a lease and will look for an attorney with that area of expertise. However, if they need a separation agreement or have to litigate over a distribution agreement, that same lawyer may not be suitable to handle those issues.

A better approach, used by many companies, is to forge a relationship with an attorney or law firm who would then become its “virtual in-house general counsel.”

It is best to find an attorney that is well-versed in commercial law. That attorney does not have to be an expert in all areas of commercial law – few lawyers are –  and companies should avoid attorneys who are willing to practice law in unfamiliar areas. However, the attorney should be someone who can provide services in many areas and will work well with others in areas outside his or her expertise, much like a larger company’s general counsel would do. Ideally, the attorney will have a sufficient network to introduce attorneys with special expertise, when needed.

For example, an attorney may be able to negotiate and draft a variety of commercial agreements, such as:

  • employment  and separation agreements,
  • third party vendor and service agreements,
  • license agreements,
  • distribution agreements,
  • asset and stock purchase agreements,
  • and operating shareholder and partnership agreements.

An attorney may also be capable to handle litigation over disputes in all or many of those areas.

However, that same attorney may not be qualified to handle a complicated tax issue, bankruptcy or intellectual property work. In such cases, the attorney should introduce the client to an attorney who can, and supervise the case as may be necessary or requested by the client, but the other attorney is the one who will handle the actual case work.

By having virtual in-house general counsel, clients are not constantly searching for a new attorney when a different need arises. They are working with someone they know and trust who will provide them with solid advice.

Do you have a business relationship with an attorney who acts as your virtual counsel? The last time you needed them, what was the best advice they gave you?


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