What’s the “Right” Level of In-House Counsel?

Now that you know what kind of lawyer you need, let’s discuss how much experience someone should have to be effective for your needs.

That was then…

Before the internet boom, the phrase “General Counsel” would conjure up images of distinguished, briefcase-carrying, crisp-suit-wearing lawyers.

Then came the time when companies were going public with just an idea and a handful of 25 year-olds and they were hiring their freshly-minted lawyer friend as their General Counsel.

These days, while you might still see an inexperienced lawyer “heading up” the legal function somewhere, most in-house lawyers now have anywhere from a couple of years to 20+ years of experience under their belts, and the right level of experience for your company will depend on what you’re doing and how much legal expertise you already have internally.

3 Questions to Ask

  1. Do you have extensive experience managing legal issues, or is there another executive who does?
  2. Do you (or that person) like managing the legal issues?
  3. Are you (or that person) willing (interested and patient enough) and able (have enough time) to be more hands-on with a less-experienced lawyer?

If you answered “yes” to these questions, especially the last question, then a junior attorney with 4-7 years of experience will likely suffice, particularly if you find someone who has worked in-house before.

If you answered “no” to any of these questions, unless you’re relying extensively on outside counsel (and if you’re reading this, you’re probably trying not to do that), you’re going to want a more experienced lawyer.

In fact, depending on the complexity of your legal needs, you may actually need someone with closer to 15-20+ years of experience. An attorney at that level will be better-suited to manage day-to-day legal issues independently, learn the business quickly, and bring valuable business judgment and past experience to the table.

But I Already Have a GC

If you already have a seasoned General Counsel-level lawyer, that’s great!

However, if you’re pushing the limits of your GC’s bandwidth or expertise, consider supplementing either with a law firm or an experienced interim attorney. A good General Counsel will manage outside counsel and in-house resources effectively and make the most efficient use of your legal dollars.

Coming Up…

Next time, we’ll explore how much work you should have before considering whether to hire a full-time employee and what options you have if your needs are less than full-time.

In our prior post, we talked about the importance of surveying your current and future business needs to help define the kind of lawyer you need.