If you lead an in-house legal department, you know that some periods are busier than others and your needs for certain types of expertise will vary over time. That reality creates a staffing conundrum. If you expand your in-house counsel ranks to handle the busiest seasons and every legal specialty, your team’s workflow will be inconsistent. Conversely, if you run a lean department, you may end up paying high fees to outside counsel for work that could have been done at more reasonable cost in-house.
Happily, there is another option: interim counsel placements. Instead of sending more work to outside law firms or hiring a permanent in-house counsel whom you may not need in six months, you may wish to explore the on-demand counsel model.
In this article, we explain some of the primary advantages of interim counsel placements and bust some myths about this talent model. We will delve into some of the advantages more deeply in future installments.
At the outset, it’s important to understand the level of talent available for interim placements. The typical Cadence Counsel candidate graduated from a Top 20 law school, has Am Law firm experience, and has spent an average of ten years within Fortune 500 law departments. In other words, seasoned talent is interested in short-term legal work.
From the perspective of an in-house legal leader, interim counsel placements have three main advantages: cost containment, customization, and scalability.
The cost advantage is usually what first entices law department leaders to explore interim counsel placements. In short, this model is a way to hire talented counsel for variable engagements at lower rates than you would pay external counsel. Consider a situation in which one of your in-house counsel is temporarily out on FMLA leave. If you send that person’s workload entirely to outside law firms, the bill will add up quickly. An interim counsel placement is both more affordable and a more complete solution. It allows you to bring in a lawyer who has in-house experience and can seamlessly pick up the portfolio of the colleague on leave, at reasonable cost.
In-house leaders who are new to the notion of interim counsel placements often worry that cheaper must mean less talented. If a lawyer is so good, why can’t she secure permanent employment? The reality is that not every highly qualified lawyer wants to work full-time. Many talented counsel value the flexibility that interim placements afford them, either because this model better enables them to balance family responsibilities or because it facilitates their pursuit of other projects outside of the law. This was already true before the pandemic, but in an era when many professionals are reevaluating their priorities, we expect the pool of high-quality interim talent to continue to grow.
Law departments routinely seek access to a rigorously screened bench of specialized lawyers who are interested in legal work that spans, on average, from 3-18 months. Perhaps the company requires a seasoned counsel with IP expertise. One option would be to call up the external law firms on the company’s panel and ask for a secondment from the IP practice. There’s a good chance that one of the firms will be able to second someone, but there is no guarantee that the lawyer they send will be the best person for the job.
Alternative Legal Services Providers (ALSPs) such as Cadence Counsel are more likely to identify that best person because we draw from a larger pool of potential candidates. The head of the law firm’s IP department will look only at members of her practice group and will send the lawyer who happens to be available for secondment. In contrast, the ALSP will conduct a customized search of the market as a whole.
Not every project can be scoped precisely at the outset, especially if it is an unusual one for your department. You may think you need one counsel for a six-month assignment, only to realize you actually need five more on short notice. Or you may bring in ten interim counsel, only to discover that ten was too many and you need to ramp down quickly to seven. A major benefit of interim counsel placements is that you have total flexibility to scale up or down as needs change. If you find that there is less work than you initially expected, you won’t be stuck with a financial burden.
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If you would like to explore the suitability of interim counsel placements for your organization, we welcome you to contact us to discuss your potential needs. Sometimes companies that have not yet worked with Cadence Counsel fear that the experience will be arduous and worry about the hassle of on-boarding yet another vendor. We are sensitive to that concern, and we have optimized our process to clear away the clutter. If you tell us what you need, we will find the talent, and the talent will start work for you. It really is that simple.