How to Hire the Right In-House Legal Counsel (and Save Your Startup Money)

June 15, 2021
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If you’re looking to hire legal counsel for your company, be careful. Just because you’ve found a lawyer who specializes in startups, doesn’t mean they’re the right legal counsel for you or your startup. Here’s how to evaluate whether a lawyer is right for you.

Experience Is Important

In order to reap the benefits of hiring an in-house counsel early, you need to hire the “right” lawyer.  Look for someone who has worked in your industry, and if possible, in the particular type of business your startup is involved in, which will make their existing knowledge and experience transfer easily to the company. 

The right lawyer should bring real-world considerations into any legal analysis and be able to assess and articulate risks without making a startup feel that all roads to achieving its business goals are blocked. If a particular course of conduct is deemed to be too risky to pursue, an in-house lawyer should be able to suggest safer alternatives to consider, balancing legal requirements with the needs (and vision) of the business.  

Consider Culture Fit

Fit within your company culture is also important. Your in-house legal team should be adept at forming relationships with the other key members of your leadership team, so that they, too, see the lawyers as a helpful source of guidance and strategic input, rather than simply naysayers.  

Timing Matters (and Earlier Is Better)

It is much easier for in-house counsel to be viewed by your management team as a “partner” and not a “blocker” when that person is brought into the conversation early and is part of discussions about the vision and path of the company. Bringing a lawyer on board when there are already fires to put out makes it harder hard to view them as the strategic partner they can be.  

By bringing on the right in-house counsel early in your startup’s life, you can build a legal department that is not simply a “cost,” but a true strategic partner of the business. This paradigm shift can end up saving you money, angst, and reputational damage, and will ultimately lead you and your company to be more successful.

About the Author: Amy Rowland is the founder of Varia Search, a boutique legal recruiting firm that uses a bespoke approach to fill legal department roles. Prior to starting Varia Search, Amy was a recruiter at another legal search firm where she focused on recruiting for in-house legal positions. She has also held in-house roles at two international companies and a large New York City law firm.

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