Why Your Business Needs a Legal Generalist Not A “Specialist”by Michelle Bomberger | August 4, 2019
In a wicked world, relying upon experience from a single domain is not only limiting, it can be disastrous.David Epstein, Author of Range: Why Generalist Triumph in a Specialized World
You probably see a doctor a few times a year — both for preventive medicine or when something just isn’t right. Your general practitioner has the knowledge and tools to provide preventative care such as vaccines and annual exams. Their experience and history with you also provides the benefit of familiarity with your entire medical history. They know what’s “normal” for you and the treatments that have been proscribed for out-of-the-ordinary situations. You typically only visit a specialist when your general practitioner feels there’s something that requires more depth of knowledge – the issue is more serious or complicated than “normal”. You want this to be the exception, not the rule.
Why not use the same approach when evaluating your business’ health? Your business grows and changes over time. With those changes, your business has different health needs. Like keeping your body healthy, a lot of the work to keep your business healthy is done by you – the regular blocking and tackling of day-to-day management. But then there’s what you don’t know. You go to your doctor so they can take a holistic view and help you with preventative care to avoid more serious, costly – and possibly catastrophic – illnesses in the future. The same goes for your business – your general counsel is the general practitioner for your business’ health who can help you with proactive, preventative care to avoid more serious, costly – and possibly catastrophic – issues that will inevitably arise in the future. The “specialist” comes in at the general counsel’s advice when a specialist is needed and the general counsel communicates with and manages the specialist as one lawyer to another, avoiding duplication or worse, conflicts.
Why Not a “Specialist”?
A lot of business owners consider all lawyers as “specialists” and really don’t have a general counsel. They have an attorney in every area of law where they may need counsel – for contracts, leases or real estate, employment, trademark, mergers and acquisitions, and corporate governance. This assumption that lawyers address siloed areas of business takes the business down a similar path as using a specialized physician before seeing the general practitioner first. The broad, holistic view that a generalist provides allows them to connect the dots among what might seem to be unrelated issues. A specialist may not know about a symptom or treatment mentioned a year ago in passing – but a generalist has all the information and can connect the dots. Their breadth of experience also provides more context for problem solving versus a siloed approach that does not bring to bear the variety of scenarios to solve a problem.
One of the most time consuming and costly issues with this approach is that specialized attorneys generally don’t have the full picture of your business’ past actions and future needs and, therefore, the counsel and solutions may create conflict with prior actions taken. To do their best work, they must understand all the relevant information in their particular area – and often other related areas – to avoid any inadvertent conflicts. For example, a company may have a Shareholder Agreement for the owners that was drafted by their corporate counsel but they go to an employment lawyer to help with an Employee Stock Purchase Plan. The employment lawyer may not know about or ask about the existing Shareholder Agreement. The conflict between the two documents could result in a serious employee dispute and possibly a lawsuit.
When legal is siloed, things get missed. On the flip side, the potentially conflicting areas are identified in advance but the two lawyers must connect to ensure all the issues are fully addressed and the relevant documents in sych with one another.
Preventative Care for Your Most Significant Asset
In an age of “the specialist” it is easy to forget the critical role of “the generalist”. When we take a step back and think about protecting our biggest asset, our businesses, it is the generalist who will have the depth of knowledge and breadth of experience to protect your business.
Working with a General Counsel — a general practitioner for your business – avoids potential conflicts and the associated costs. The General Counsel is an extension of your management team with visibility into all aspects of the business and guides decision making with their holistic, strategic, legal perspective. They provide the business with the preventative care it needs to plan for the future and protect the business. So what does preventative care look like in a business? Here are some examples:
- Understanding contract terms and aligning the risk of a contract with its value to include appropriate limitations on liability
- Educating management about employment law best practices to avoid legal claims and implementing policies for the business
- Ensuring clear steps are in place if a key person leaves to minimize disruption
- Staying ahead of changes to the law so that implementation is planned not reactive
- Guide the executive team by providing the legal perspective on strategic, financial, and operational decisions
Why is preventative care important? As a business owner, you excel at running your business and know you can execute for success. But there’s a lot outside your sphere of knowledge that you don’t know – and much of that can destroy your hard work if you don’t proactively protect it.
Think about the number of times you’ve weighed whether or not it’s worth it to have a lawyer get involved in a contract review, policy update or employment matter. You’re considering the risk of what could go wrong against the cost of engaging counsel. But your analysis may be flawed because, more often than not, you aren’t in a position to fully understand what’s at stake. Now think about the potential time and money spent if you miscalculated that risk. What’s at risk is everything you’ve built.
The Legal Counsel Your Business Deserves
All businesses need to have the legal perspective at the management table – and that’s achievable even for small businesses. Rather than weighing each interaction with your business lawyer as an expense, you can have access to the counsel you need when you need it with Equinox’s General Counsel Solutions. Our solutions provide you the benefits of a general counsel on a part-time or fractional basis at a fixed monthly fee tailored to your needs. Learn more about the truly unlimited support a General Counsel attorney can provide your business here.