5 Tips for Building an In-House Legal Team

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By Paige Zandri
| Legal Process Management

Building In-House Legal Team

Companies typically look to build our their in-house legal team when their existing team is overburdened, their outside counsel budget is blowing up, or some combination of the two.

Here are some tips to follow when expanding your in-house legal team:

  1. Know your budget. How much have you been spending on outside counsel? Is this the type of work that could be brought in-house? Is your business expanding to the point where you’ll need more outside legal help? If so, how much will that cost you? Answering these questions can help you approximate your “break-even” budget for hiring in-house counsel –– the maximum you can pay and still generate a net savings on your legal spend. Your budget will, of course, influence whom you can and cannot hire. If you’re not ready to spend on an in-house hire but are also leery of high outside counsel bills, Priori Legal offers a way of engaging top outside counsel at exceptional rates.

  1. Understand the legal issues you face. You probably have one, or a few, legal issues that you need help with –– whether it’s real estate, employment, intellectual property, or the like. But if, for instance, you need an intellectual property attorney, it’s important to determine exactly what kind of IP lawyer you need, considering what specific risks you are exposed to in the intellectual property space. If you’re in the content business and are concerned about copyright infringement, you might want to build an in-house legal team with a lot of depth and experience in copyright law and save outside counsel for other one-off IP matters. In other words, don’t just look for someone with general expertise in an area of the law –– try to find someone who’s worked on the specific kinds of matters you face.

  2. Decide what level of seniority you need. To ensure you are aligned with your legal budget constraints, you may be inclined to choose a relatively junior or mid-level attorney to fill a need within your growing legal department. The savings may be illusory, though. Remember that the time and money it takes to train a junior hire is part of their total cost. Remember, too, that cost savings can come in the form of averted mistakes; if you need someone, for example, to negotiate with highly sophisticated parties on a regular basis, experienced in-house counsel may ultimately save you more than an attorney with less negotiation experence.

  1. Identify candidates with the right soft skills. Law is a service industry, and so much of what makes a great lawyer goes beyond technical expertise. To provide great service, attorneys need to operate effectively as part of a team, under pressure, and often in business areas they are likely more familiar with than the people that they are advising.  Perhaps above all, they must possess good judgment.  When interviewing candidates, consider how collaborative each attorney seems, whether he or she will function well in high-stakes situations, and will take the initiative to learn the business, not just the law. Finally, and maybe most importantly, determine whether the candidate has a reputation for demonstrating great judgment.

  1. Make sure candidates aren’t redundant or nonessential. No matter how capable you are at running your in-house counsel hiring process, the fact is that lawyers are expensive.  Redundancy or surplusage in your legal team is a costly proposition, so it is worth taking time to fully assess your needs and your candidates’ abilities.

Learning how to build an in-house legal team takes time. Rightly or wrongly, lawyers are infamous for being naysayers –– many are risk-averse by nature, while a company’s success depends on taking calculated risks. An adept legal team will find a way to say “yes” or “yes, but…” to the greatest extent possible. Taking the time to carefully assess your legal needs and your candidates’ backgrounds and personalities will ensure that you build the right team at the right cost.

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