Anyone can represent themselves in a court of law and a lot of businesses start without any legal representation because the business owner assumes that role. But, as time goes you need to have some sort of ‘legal eagle’ whose sole job it is to legally represent and protect your growing company.
Question is, which route do you take? Do you hire a commercial law firm or stick with in-house legal counsel? There’s no cookie-cutter answer to this question because it depends on a number of factors. Read on for some tips on the subject and hopefully by the end of this article, you’ll have a better idea of which option to choose.
Why hire a lawyer?
Whether you go in-house or hire a commercial law firm, it’s important to understand that lawyers must undergo 8 or more years of formal education before they can even start practicing. After that, attorneys spend years acquiring experience in a specific area of expertise. That’s why you may find that the time spent resolving a legal problem is shorter when you have an experienced lawyer by your side.
A lawyer will also provide you with options you wouldn’t have considered because they have knowledge of the law that you don’t have.
Also, have you ever tried to read a legal document the whole way through? Did you understand it? Suffice to say, lawyers speak a special language, also known as “legalese” which confuses most mere mortals. They understand it because they studied it and they’re the authors of it.
You can use a lawyer for a variety of issues from incorporation of documents, copyright/ trademark/ patents issues, as well as to draft and read contracts, letters of intent and visas.
Keep in mind that lawyers deal with other lawyers and accountants all the time. That’s why they’re skillful at settling small difficulties that arise on almost every transaction.
In-house legal counsel or commercial law firm?
There are pros and cons to each option. Here’s a more thorough breakdown of each:
Commercial law firm
A commercial law firm is an organization of solicitors that specialize in different areas of the law. Their goal is to provide businesses with relevant advice when needed and their focus is on business related matters.
- Hiring a commercial law firm is a great solution for growing businesses that only have a few legal concerns. Most businesses operate for 5 to even 10 years without needing an in-house lawyer because they have a low volume of legal work to deal with.
- Hiring lawyers is expensive. But, a lot of commercial law firms offer free or discounted consultations for new clients. This is a perk you won’t get with in-house legal counsel, as you’ll have to pay them a set retainer from the moment they start working for you.
- Although commercial law firms come with certain price discounts in the beginning, they can charge exorbitant hourly rates. It’s not uncommon for commercial lawyers to charge $300 to $500 per hour or even $125 for a five minute phone call.
In-house legal counsel
As the name implies, in-house legal counsel refers to a lawyer or boutique law firm that you hire on a permanent or semi-permanent basis to manage your business’ legal risk.
- In-house legal counsel is less expensive. That’s because they have lower overhead and can pass on the savings to their clients.
- They offer a fixed rate. It doesn’t matter how much work you give them in-house lawyers will never hit you with unexpected fees. That’s why they’re highly recommended for businesses that need to tackle a lot of legal tasks each year.
- In-house lawyers specialize in corporate legal matters and can help you make legally savvy business decisions that won’t place you at risk of litigation.
- Although specialization is a good thing, it also means that there are certain issues that your in-house counsel may not be able to cover. So, in addition to paying them a retainer, you have to pay someone else to do work that your in-house counsel doesn’t have expertise in.
To Wrap up
Whether you hire in-house lawyer or a commercial law firm, it’s important to make sure they have experience in your industry. Do your research to find out how long they’ve been practicing- the older a law firm is, the more experience they have in different aspects of the law.
Reputation and credibility are also important. Google the AVVO website and see if the law firm or attorney you want to hire has positive or negative reviews. This is a great resource to use in addition to checking the attorney or firm’s own website. The point is to see what other people are saying about your prospective lawyer and find out if they offer good customer service. After all, you don’t want a law firm that’ll take days to return a simple phone call or email.
At the end of the day, the option you choose will depend on your business’ needs as well as your budget.