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How to Hire Your
First General Counsel

How to Hire Your First General Counsel

2021 brought several examples of Big Law attorneys leaving their firms to go in-house. 

This trend is unlikely to abate in 2022 as more and more Big Law attorneys are lured in-house by the promise of a better work-life balance, the chance to just serve one client and to leave the billable hour in the rear-view mirror. 

Startups were part of the trend, with companies like Injective Labs hiring their first-ever general counsels from Big Law in 2021.  With so many Big Law attorneys looking for their next opportunities, startups can reap the benefits of an active legal hiring market. 

Startups frequently wrestle with the timing of hiring their first in-house attorney. If you’re at a startup, you may wonder when is best to bring someone on board to handle the company’s legal issues. There are a few common inflection points that tend to necessitate hiring a GC.

The first is when a company grows to a certain size. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all tipping point when a company absolutely needs to hire an attorney in-house, but frequently, startups will set a goal for hiring a GC when they reach 100 employees. On the other end of the spectrum, companies with as few as 10 employees have made the decision to hire in-house. 

While bigger companies tend to have more complex legal issues, depending on the company’s context, even smaller-sized companies can benefit from an in-house attorney. For example, even with fewer employees, a company that generates a significant amount of intellectual property could benefit from hiring an experienced IP attorney as a GC. 

Another common tipping point is when a company’s legal bills start piling up.Companies of all sizes find themselves needing legal advice on subjects like corporate finance and governance, contracts, employment law, tax law, and real estate, and frequently need assistance navigating mergers and acquisitions and negotiating agreements.

Engaging a law firm for services on an hourly basis adds up quickly and it can be more cost-effective to hire an attorney who will handle most of the company’s work in-house, for a set salary. 

Companies that hire a GC will still need to engage outside counsel, because not every in-house attorney has experience in every area of the law that a business might need to tap into. However, a GC who has experience that lines up significantly with a company’s needs can present significant savings for a company. 

So, how can a startup set up the recruiting process for success?

When time is of the essence – and it frequently is in the chaotic world of startups – companies should consider engaging legal recruiting firms to tackle hiring. 

Not only can legal recruiters expand a company’s capacity, but they also help companies find the right person for their specific needs while company leaders stay focused on growing their businesses. Outsourcing hiring can result in saving a company’s time, stress and unnecessary spend. 

When selecting a legal recruiting agency, it’s important to connect with recruiters who understand the importance of talent decisions in the competitive legal market and consistently deliver high-quality candidate pools.

In addition to knowing the market and screening for competence and applicable legal experience, legal recruiters also look for key traits that companies need in a GC, like flexibility and the ability to think fast on their feet, business acumen and a problem-solving mindset. 

Hiring your first in-house attorney is a milestone for startups. It can be difficult and overwhelming to navigate the process on your own and to know when and where to start. Legal recruiters can help you get started and find the person that’s best for your company and your specific needs.