Mention the word "legal" to most small business owners, and chances are good that they'll cringe and recount a story about a bad, expensive experience. Too often reactionary, small business owners only think about legal services when there is an immediate need to seek and hire a lawyer, which can be time consuming and expensive. There is a better way. In the long run, hiring an in-house lawyer can not only save time and money, but also they can provide invaluable advice and expertise, in areas both business-related and legal.
A Matter of Focus
One of the most important benefits of hiring an in-house legal counsel is focus. The attorney is an employee of the business, so he or she is focused on the owner's business; he or she has no other clients to divide their time and attention.
Some small business owners may question whether an in-house lawyer would have enough to do full time. After all, lawsuits are typically a rare event. There is often plenty for the in-house legal counsel to do—and not all of it involves preparing for legal action. Often, the in-house counsel focuses time on employment law matters, intellectual property concerns, contract compliance and more. Also, because the role of the in-house counsel is to mitigate against risk while also saving the business money, his or her advice often involves matters of general business strategy.
A Preventative Approach
In addition to focus, the mentality of an in-house counsel is unique. They look to prevent legal risk before it arises, rather than read to it after the fact. A dispute between two businesses may be able to be solved long before it reaches a point where one business sues the other. Likewise, the in-house legal counsel can spot issues that could become lawsuits and provide advice to the business owner about what they can do to avoid the problem.
Small business owners may see the benefit of hiring an in-house counsel, but they may be concerned about affordability. Legal counsel is not a revenue driver for the company. There is also a perception that legal counsel expect high salaries While the industry averages do appear high (InHouseBlog.com estimates starting salaries at $87,000 for an attorney with 0-3 years of experience), it's not uncommon to be able to hire a business attorney for less than $60,000 per year. When considering the high costs of legal fees and damages and weighing those potential costs against the legal counsel's salary, there is often a savings in addition to general peace of mind that comes from having an expert whose job is to provide sound advice and mitigate against risk.
It's Not for Everyone
Not every small business owner needs an attorney on their staff full time. But for industries that are heavily regulated or ones that operate in fast-paced, ever-changing environments, an in-house legal counsel can be an invaluable asset.