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
Start thinking of hiring an attorney as legal insurance. The legal fees you will pay now could save you thousands of dollars in future litigation. In-house attorneys perform a variety of functions including determining the legal structure of a business (corporation or LLC?), drafting contracts, and registering for federal trademark and copyright protection, 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 need assistance determining the best legal structure of your business. Attorneys can advise you on the advantages and disadvantages of registering your business as a corporation, limited liability corporation (LLC), or business partnership. Although you do not need an attorney to create an LLC or partnership, forming a corporation will need the services of an attorney.
- Hire an attorney when negotiating large sales agreements, lease agreements for real estate, or drafting contracts. Legal documents can often contain many pages of “legalese” that can confuse even the most well-read individual. Your lawyer will go through the document carefully and make sure there are no surprises before you sign any major agreement.
- Litigation is the most common time when people seek the services of an attorney. Lawsuits can range from violations of federal or state law, employment, environmental, or governmental issues. Lawyers and law firms specialize in many different practice areas. Be sure to find an attorney that specializes in your 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.