In an article published by the Daily Report on November 12, 2020, Allen Nelson discusses the creation of T|E General Counsel, the firm’s fractional general counsel solution, which he co-leads with Gray McCalley, and includes a dozen team members who have in-house experience with diverse legal and industry skill sets.
As small and midsize companies face more challenges than ever, they desire seasoned legal guidance but lack the budget or scale to justify a full-time general counsel. The firm’s new practice aims at solving this challenge.
It’s fairly common for smaller companies that can’t justify hiring a full-time general counsel to use corporate lawyers in firms as outside GCs, but Nelson said he sees an advantage in offering them an entire team of lawyers with significant in-house experience, ranging from publicly traded Fortune 500 companies to startups. Nelson’s own two decades in-house include eight years as chief compliance counsel for Bell South Corp before becoming GC for Crawford & Co., a publicly traded, global insurance claims manager.
The 13 attorneys in the firm’s practice are devoting their practices entirely to this work, Nelson said, instead of taking on outside GC roles as just one part of a broader practice. Other firms serving mid-market companies have lawyers who act as outside GCs, but generally on a more ad hoc basis.
Nelson emphasized that the practice isn’t offering lawyers to help companies temporarily with routine legal tasks like contract review. Rather, it provides an on-call GC with the business acumen to advise on growing the enterprise, managing risk and compliance or dealing with vendors and other business relationships.
Nelson said the majority of his engagements are on a monthly retainer basis, but some clients prefer hourly billing until they figure out how much time they need. “Flexibility is important because our clients are entrepreneurial-minded,” he said. “They need an experience GC—but not full-time.”
Experience is important to Nelson’s clients, which include startups, private-equity portfolio companies and founders of family businesses, he said. They generally start out by describing an opportunity and asking what he thinks. “They want a lawyer who can say they’ve worked on a similar issue four or five times,” he said.
That’s where the 13-member GC team comes in. Some have significant public company experience, like Nelson, while others are serial startup GCs or have industry-specific expertise. That means Nelson can pull in another practice member or refer the client when needed. His colleague Deitra Crawley, for instance, is versed in government contracting from her experience as the GC of UNITECH, a defense contractor acquired by Lockheed Martin Corp.
It’s not every firm that can field a practice of former GCs. About one-fourth of Taylor English’s 180 lawyers have worked in-house, due to the firm’s nontraditional business model. It only hires experienced lawyers and focuses on value-based pricing for its middle-market clients, without the trappings of expensive Midtown office space.