Last week, I covered what a virtual counsel is and briefly mentioned the benefits of using their services. This week, I want to share more about the benefits of virtual counsel and how to find the right counsel to meet your needs.
What are the benefits of engaging a virtual counsel?
With a little creativity, clients and virtual general counsel (VGC) can build a relationship that provides advantages over traditional external counsel such as:
- Enhanced integrity of the business (which Boards, regulators, and investors always appreciate);
- Greater efficiency of legal services (getting more work done in less time);
- Better alignment of interests between client and lawyer (where the lawyer is not billing by the hour);
- Improved legal information management;
- Quality and more cost-effective services from external service providers.
These are broad benefits that will likely apply to most organizations. A virtual counsel that understands their potential and an open-minded client should easily be able to come up a list of services to be delivered and functions to be assumed that provide added value to the organization. Essentially, the list of benefits can be lengthy once the available opportunities are explored on both sides.
How do you find the right virtual counsel?
The number of lawyers presenting themselves as virtual counsel is steadily increasing. However, just because you’ve been pitched by a persuasive lawyer shouldn’t mean that’s the lawyer you should retain. Now that your eyes have been opened, look around!
Having decided to move to a virtual counsel model, issue an RFP or search the market (LinkedIn) to find lawyers that meet the profile you’re looking for.
Organizations looking for a VGC should consider lawyers with at least 10 years of in-house experience or combined external/internal legal experience. It is generally accepted that it takes at least 10 years for an individual to establish the confidence and ability to work independently in delivering sound business and legal advice to clients.
Organizations that want to add capacity to an existing legal department don’t need to limit themselves to the 10-year minimum threshold. Any lawyer with several years in-house experience or equivalent law firm corporate/commercial experience should be able to work in this capacity given their work will likely be filtered through the internal counsel team.
Additionally, organizations should request 2-3 client references before selecting a virtual counsel. Some lawyers may resist sharing the identity of past clients due to client confidentiality concerns, but this is a red flag. A client’s identity can be disclosed for reference purposes with the client’s consent. As a client of lawyers in the past, I was frequently asked to provide references for lawyers I’d worked with. If a lawyer doesn’t take the step of getting consent, it could be a sign that there’s a problem.
After you find the right virtual counsel, your next step is structuring the relationship. Both sides need to have a clear understanding of expectations. In my next post, I’ll outline the key considerations that need to be addressed when going through the contracting stage of engaging virtual counsel services.
Read the full series on working with virtual counsel: