Many companies begin with employing outside lawyers and law firms for their company’s business needs. As a company grows, these needs can be business formations, intellectual property, real estate, employment law, and other functions. Eventually, the scales will tip, and it will be time to hire their first in-house lawyer.
Depending on the type of company, this lawyer will often be a corporate generalist. Sometimes this lawyer will be plucked from the ranks of one of their outside counsel law firms since they already know the company’s business and are a known quantity. An in-house lawyer can be seen as an extravagant expense and hiring legal counsel might not be an obvious addition to your growing business, there are many advantages to hiring one for the home team.
Common Times When Businesses Hire an In-house Lawyer
Consider hiring an attorney as legal insurance. The legal fees you will pay now could end up saving you thousands of dollars in any forthcoming litigation. In-house attorneys execute an array of functions including determining the legal structure of a business (corporation or LLC?), writing contracts, and registering for the appropriate federal trademark and copyright protections. This generalist can be an invaluable part of a team. The need for outside counsel may still continue but should be on a much smaller scale.
- Hire an attorney if you require help determining the ideal legal structure of your business. Attorneys can direct you on the pros and cons of registering your business as a corporation, business partnership or limited liability corporation (LLC). Forming a corporation will require an attorney, however you don’t need an attorney in order to form an LLC or partnership.
- Employ an attorney when negotiating real estate leases, big sales agreements, or when drafting contracts. Often times, legal documents will include several pages of complicated “legalese” that can confuse even the smartest people. Your lawyer will review the document thoroughly and carefully, ensuring there are no surprises before you sign any large-scale agreement.
- Litigation is the most common time when people will look for the services of an attorney. Lawsuits typically range from federal/state law violations, environmental, employment, or governmental matters. Law firms and lawyers specialize in a wide variety of practice areas. Make sure you hire an attorney who specializes in your particular legal issue.
- If your business is centered on technology or innovation, maybe consider an attorney with a background in intellectual property. An IP attorney can guide you through the lengthy patent application and registration process. Also, handle Trademark searches and filings with the Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO).
Characteristics of a Good In-house Counsel Candidate
A business orientation, willingness to learn and ability to balance agility with experience all come together in an individual who can proactively guide a company forward. Ultimately a company needs a lawyer who is willing to make decisions and recommendations versus simply providing possible options without an accompanying opinion.
This new hire should be a lawyer that will give direct, informed advice about which option is best for the company. This person should also be a trusted advisor offering valued advice regarding all aspects of the business and providing a legal and ethical approach to follow.