Are you thinking about hiring legal counsel for your business? Maybe you're growing faster than anticipated, or perhaps you are confused about legal matters impacting your business. Whatever the reason, hiring an in-house lawyer makes sense, but where should you start?
What is a Legal Counsel?
An in-house legal counsel provides advice on legal matters concerning the business. The guidance from a legal counsel helps the firms to decide whether or not to take action on a particular issue that may have legal implications.
Main duties of a Legal Counsel
Drafting, reviewing, and negotiating various commercial contracts
The primary duties of a legal counsel are drafting, reviewing, and negotiating contracts and agreements. A legal counsel typically assists the company in all significant business transactions, for example, licensing agreements or finance agreements. They negotiate with third parties the terms of these contracts to get the optimum agreement for the company.
Legal counsel is in charge of ensuring compliance with regulations. The Food Standards Agency (FSA), Approved Codes of Practice for Health and Safety and GDPR are areas where the government has extensive rules and regulations. Infringement of the latter can cost businesses up to the higher maximum amount, £17.5 million or 4% of the total annual worldwide turnover. GDPR, for example, concerns all companies. Therefore it is vital that legislation is followed as minor errors could lead to catastrophic results for the business.
The lawyer provides advice on all aspects of law relevant to the company, including contracts, employment issues, intellectual property and taxation. They also monitor new laws that might affect business operations. For example, if there's a new law related to working hours or maternity leave, they can advise on how this may affect your organisation and what steps you need to take next.
Skills and qualifications
Legal counsel must possess commercial awareness skills because they deal with a wide variety of issues, including company accounts and finances and employment law and intellectual property rights. They need to draw on their knowledge of the law and apply it to a particular business situation to give valuable advice to their employer.
Legal counsels typically handle multiple matters at one time. Therefore they must prioritise their workload and work within deadlines. Legal counsel must also be thorough and accurate in their work. They are responsible for ensuring all contracts are legally sound.
Most companies will want their legal counsel to be qualified in the UK and have around 2 to 5 years of post-qualification experience. To become qualified, individuals would usually complete a qualifying law degree (LLB) and then take the Solicitor Qualifying Examination (SQE). Before September 2021, the route has been the graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) and a Legal Practice Course (LPC).
Importance of hiring a legal counsel
Whether you are established or just starting, hiring legal counsel is essential for any business to avoid costly mistakes and ensure that you have protected your interests in all aspects of your business.
For a start-up, it is crucial to make sure that you are protected, legally. Legal counsel will guarantee that your business has the correct legal documents and agreements when dealing with suppliers, clients, and employees. They can also ensure that you take steps to protect your IP, such as your website and logo design.
A lawyer can assist you in reviewing contracts before signing them, reducing the risk of any legal disputes (and associated legal costs) arising from non-compliance or breach of contract by either party. They can ensure that you are taking steps to avoid any potential litigations or lawsuits that may arise from issues such as safety regulations or employment laws.
Steps to hire a legal counsel
Write a job description
Identify the sort of legal counsel you need based on the size of your business, industry, and goals for the future. Note the requirements regarding the experience and qualities you want in your legal counsel based on these factors. You should also be clear about your role to attract the relevant candidate.
There are plenty of legal counsel jobs out there - make sure your job description is accurate, avoids generic language and is an accurate reflection of your work culture.
Be open-minded in your approach and consider lawyers in private practice (i.e. a lawyer who is employed by a law firm) as well as lawyers with previous in-house experience.
Writing a job description is an essential part of any job posting. A well-written job description can boost your company's presence in the market, draw in suitable candidates, and ultimately help you fill the position with a qualified candidate. As such, it is essential to do this correctly.
Job title and summary
Clearly outline the expectation for the role. You'll need someone with strong commercial awareness and a qualified solicitor who knows your industry. You may bring attention to the nature of your business and the types of legal matters the candidate will be dealing with. Soft skills such as communication, negotiation, and presentation are crucial when interpreting complex issues for non-lawyer employees.
Most qualified solicitors may want to specialise in a specific field to attract a motivated candidate. Include a company summary that will give candidates an insight into their role and company culture. A comprehensive overview will attract the ideal candidate who will have a genuine interest in your business, reducing any further misunderstandings.
Duties and responsibilities
Some duties and responsibilities include the following:
- Give accurate and timely counsel to executives on a variety of legal matters
- Monitor compliance with legislation
- Maintain knowledge of any changes in the law
- Negotiate, draft and review commercial contracts with third parties
- Provide clarification on legal issues or specifications to everyone in the organisation
- Execute procedures for protecting patents, trademarks, and industrial designs
Adequate legal counsels need to work with the business to understand the challenges and produce viable and tangible solutions. Some challenges include disagreement between shareholders, poorly drafted contracts, IP and other operational challenges.
You can narrow down your applicant by being explicit regarding education, experience and achievements. One thing to be mindful of is to not overload this section with unnecessary information. Having an extensive requirement section can deter more than capable candidates from applying.
Some requirements can include:
- Qualified lawyer
- 2 to 3 years post qualified experience
- In-depth knowledge of a specific area of law and specific industry
It may seem trivial, but a well-written job description can make the difference in turning away unqualified candidates and attracting high-quality ones.
Post the position
Post the job on social media, networking sites or other legal channels. Reach out to people in your network for recommendations or suggestions. You also can use recruiters who specialise in finding ideal candidates, which can come at a fee but will ensure you save time and get a qualified candidate.
Interview the ideal candidate
Think about the experiences and qualities you want in your legal counsel and ask the relevant questions to gauge the candidate's suitability. Ask how they have dealt with past complex legal issues, motivation, and critical thinking skills. Find out what the candidate wishes to get out of this role to judge if the position will be stimulating for them.
You must build trust in the relationship with your legal counsel, given the importance of their role. It is always helpful to get a second opinion from someone else in the business to assess candidate suitability.
Extend the job offer
Send an offer of employment to the successful candidate. The offer letter will cover what the employee and employer want to agree on, define both parties' obligations and rights, and outline any particular terms.
Discuss the terms
When you have found the ideal candidate and they have accepted the offer. You have to make sure your employment contract is comprehensive and covers all aspects. So, what do you need to know?
First, make sure the contract covers all of the following:
- Compensation (salary, bonuses, stock options, benefits)
- Work schedule (hours, vacation time)
- Job description
- Job expectations (reporting lines, evaluation process)
- Employment status (permanent or temporary; full or part-time)
- Job title and official start date
There are many other key terms you will want to consider before sending this to the candidate. Consider adding restrictive covenants or a suitable notice period. These clauses are vital to protect both employee and employer.
As a CEO, you know how important it is to streamline your business operations and protect your assets. With Legislate, you can easily create bespoke contracts that are tailored to your specific needs without the need for expensive legal fees. Additionally, our platform allows you to extract important data from legal documents, helping make informed decisions faster. With Legislate, you can have peace of mind knowing that your contracts are legally sound and in good order. Book a demo or sign up today to put the confidence back into contracting.
The opinions on this page are for general information purposes only and do not constitute legal advice on which you should rely.