Know Your Business Needs Before Hiring In-House Counsel

You’re probably also spending more money on legal counsel, so, perhaps, you’ve been wondering whether you should hire an in-house lawyer to save some of that green.

Before you start searching for candidates, however, there are a few things to consider.

We thought we’d start a blog series to share a few tips that our clients have found helpful.

Stating the Obvious

Before we go any further, we’d like to start with the obvious: Know what you’re really looking for before you start looking.

Of course, right? Who would hire without knowing what they need?!

You’d be surprised. Many companies draft extensive job postings that include things like “prior industry experience preferred” (more to come on that topic later) without asking themselves the question that, we think, every hiring decision should start with.

The First Question to Ask: “What are my current business needs, and how might they change?”

Too often, companies hire based on current pain-points without considering future growth. Or they create job descriptions that include everything but the kitchen sink.

But, let’s face it, there very few people who can do everything… so companies interview candidate after candidate, and because no one can possibly meet all the requirements, companies don’t hire anyone (sometimes for years!). In the meantime, work and bills accumulate.

OK, I’ve asked myself… Now what?

When you begin with a focus on your business needs, you’ll learn:

  • What kind of legal expertise you need now and in the future,
  • Whether you need a specialist or a generalist (or both, which may mean you either need to hire more than 1 person or you may need different people at different times),
  • Whether you should consider interim solutions to meet your immediate needs, particularly if the expertise you need today won’t be needed going forward.

Armed with this information, you’ll have a better idea of who you want to hire.

For instance, many companies initially need a great “technical” lawyer who specilizes in a particular area – such as  supporting sales, handling employment issues, or negotiating development agreements, etc.

But, because they only have a vague idea of what they need, companies might hire a general lawyer on the theory that they can “do everything,” only to find that their lawyer isn’t specialized enough to handle the specific need.

Or, they hire attorneys with specific expertise, and then are disappointed when they can’t effectively address the company’s broader legal issues.

A Word About Hiring a “GC” First

If you’re not sure what you’re looking for, or think that your needs may change over time, avoid the mistake that many companies make when they hire their first in-house lawyer.

Your first in-house attorney doesn’t have to be “GC.”

It may be wiser to reserve that title for a later day when you know more about your longer term needs and whether that person is a good fit.

Lessons, and Moving Forward

Start by focusing on the business needs.

Once you’ve done that, go ahead and draft those wondeful job descriptions. You’ll be better prepared to find the person you need and are less likely to hire the wrong person.

Stay tuned for Tip 2, which will explore how much experience your first legal hire should have.

Your business is going gangbusters. You’re closing important deals, hiring like crazy, and raising more money – all good stuff!