Every lawyer, whether inside or outside counsel, knows the push and pull of this demanding profession. Law departments are trying to cut costs and law firms are trying to help this initiative, but they still need to bill their associates at a certain amount in order to make money. Is there a way to build some flexibility into the traditional law firm business model, flexibility that would be good both for the bottom line and for the quality of life of attorneys who actually want one?
This was the conundrum facing Jane Allen more than 14 years ago. She had taken a traditional path familiar to many lawyers – clerking for a federal judge, working as a litigator in a private practice. Soon, though, she started questioning the whole private practice paradigm, noting that other lawyers she knew were becoming frustrated by the situation. These initial thoughts about changing the business model led her to found Counsel on Call and, 14 years later, as CEO and founder, she oversees the business that may just change the face of law forever.
Allen describes the Counsel on Call (CoC) business model thusly: “It’s a lawyer-to-lawyer business. We provide our clients the chance to have dedicated attorney teams full of talented lawyers,” she says. Its suited to situations where a company needs to get the work done but doesn’t want to hire a full-time employee.
At the core of the CoC business model is data. There are many inefficiencies inherent in the legal profession, and Allen thought there was a way to do legal work more cost effectively, leveraging data to integrate business principles and get the job done more efficiently.
CoC provides services in just about every area that would be of concern to a corporate legal department – litigation, securities, contracts, government investigations and more. Allen says that a majority of CoC’s clients are legal departments, including over a third of the Fortune 100 companies CoC also works with state and local government and law firms as well.
The CoC model provides benefits for clients, but it also benefits the lawyers working for the company. “The lawyers get to do what they enjoy – practicing law. There’s no partnership track. There’s no pressure to bring in business. They can work 20 hours a week or 40,” Allen explains. “Driven and dedicated attorneys can coach little league if they want to and not be blackballed if they don’t want to grow with companies.” This frees them up to ask questions that associates might not ask for fear of looking stupid, she says. They can be more confident in their abilities with no one judging them.
“It’s an exciting time in the profession,” she says. “When I started 14 years ago, everyone thought I was crazy. But when I look at clients who are in-house lawyers, the pressure on them is unlike anything in the past. They have got to be good business people and drive value to clients. We have been able to partner with them to do so.”