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Don't Get Lost Going Outside: 3 Mistakes GCs Make Hiring Outside Counsel

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on May 05, 2015 11:55 AM

Everyone needs an extra hand now and then. Especially in-house attorneys. Taking on outside counsel can help a legal department balance its existing work with new obligations, and add specialized expertise where needed.

Finding a good match isn't easy, however. About 30 percent of in-house counsel let their outside counsel go every year. You don't have to be one of them though -- if you pick well. Here's three common mistakes GCs make when hiring outside counsel:

1. Forgetting About Relationships

The firm might have a great hourly fee for the work, or a stellar reputation, but don't forget, you're going to be working with them. A lot. When shopping for outside counsel, think of it almost as hiring a new member of your legal department. You want someone who is skilled and within your budget, but you also need to focus on how well you can work with them. Forget this and you might end up looking for replacement outside counsel in short time.

Your network can probably point you in the right direction. Ask friends in other legal departments what their experiences have been with particular outside counsel to get an idea of which of your candidates may be the best match for you.

2. Underestimating the Importance of Expertise

On of the most common reasons outside counsel are fired is because they lack expertise. In searching for outside counsel, make sure that you look for someone who has experience in your field and in cases similar to the specific the matter that they will be working on. If you cast your net wide enough, you should be able to find a good match. Don't overlook boutique firms in your search, either. These smaller practices often hone in on very particular areas of law -- something that can be very beneficial if you have a highly specialized matter.

As with everything, remember that you're hiring not just a firm, but lawyers. Make sure that the team that will be working on your matter has specific knowledge about your industry. The goal is to "pick the lawyer, not the firm."

3. Sticking to the Old Billing Paradigms

As inside counsel, you know that there can be better ways to pay for legal work than the traditional hourly rate. Consider pursuing alternative fee agreements. Lump sum fees, contingent fees, volume-based discounts, or a mix of any of these can all be employed to help save you some money when taking on outside counsel.

Keep these three things in mind and you should be able to find outside representation that meets your needs, without draining your budget.

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