Everyone should have general counsel on a retainer.
Certainly, as a lawyer who stands to benefit from same, I am biased. But I also have a unique perspective, working for roughly 10 years with a variety of individuals and business as their legal counsel.
What I have learned during that time is that, 99% of the time, it makes more sense for individuals and small/medium companies to retain outside general counsel as opposed to hiring in-house legal counsel. However, not every law firm is equipped to serve in this type of general outside counsel capacity.
Heitner Legal is very well positioned for this general outside counsel role. No, we are not just a Sports Law firm, although we have represented a wide array of extremely successful athletes and agents. And no, we are not just an intellectual property firm; however, we have handled major IP issues (trademark, copyright, right of publicity, etc.) in the U.S. and around the world.
Yet, because Heitner Legal covers so many areas of the law and has great experience in those specialties, such as the aforementioned area of intellectual property in addition to handling small to very complex transactional issues, civil litigation and arbitration, family law and Internet-related issues such as cybersquatting, we have a unique perspective, approach and ability to serve as a quarterback for individuals and companies that need legal services. And to be honest, there is not a single person or company who should not have a lawyer on call.
Speaking of being on call, another factor that puts Heitner Legal in a positon to excel as outside general counsel is our communication. I have said it since the day I created Heitner Legal, my goal in differentiating Heitner Legal from most other law firms was that we would be the most effective, active communicators in the industry. Every client receives my cell phone number for texts and calls and can email me at any time. Our response time is second-to-none, which is saying a lot for a company in an industry that is abhorred for slow response time and inadequate content within said responses.
I can’t tell you how many clients have retained Heitner Legal initially for a single task, were thrilled with the process and the result, and ultimately decided to choose Heitner Legal in this role of outside general counsel, coming to Heitner Legal for any additional legal needs. Further, they know that our firm is not afraid to be clear about staying in our lanes of expertise and sending an issue (as quarterback) to another firm, when required, similar to what a traditional in-house counsel would do, but without the fixed cost.
And that’s really my biggest gripe with the in-house counsel position (that said, we love all the in-house counsel who send us business). It’s that a company is committing to pay a person a fixed amount of money (usually $200,000 or more annually) even if there is not enough pure legal work for that person to handle (and there usually isn’t). Then, the company is forced to plug that person into other business roles that the lawyer was not educated and experienced to perform.
If you’re hiring us for outside general counsel and there is no pending litigation that you need us to handle, then we can start a relationship for a small up-front retainer. We provide monthly invoicing throughout, with very detailed line items as opposed to bulk billing. When the retainer is exhausted, we ask for payment on a monthly basis. Your commitment is very small as compared to what you must commit to an in-house counsel lawyer earning a fixed salary.
Plus, the concept doesn’t only make sense for companies. If we only require a small retainer, then, as an individual, why wouldn’t you want to have a jack-of-all-trades law firm that responds quickly to inbound communications engaged for when you need legal services?
I came up with this concept of outside general counsel, and that it was a perfect fit for describing my law firm, after finding that time-after-time, clients would come to us asking for work on a specific project and then stick with us for many years (as well as refer us to other potential clients, which is the only way that we grow — we do not pay at all for advertising). I’m asked what we do, and it is not very easy to respond. We draft and review contracts, file for and litigate against trademark registrations, arbitrate and litigate contract and commercial disputes, handle defamation claims, on and on. It makes much more sense to classify us as outside general counsel. We love the work and we think that there is no better firm to serve in such a capacity.