The job description for general counsel is varied and changeable. A GC must not only interface with company employees and executives but also act as manager and liaison with outside legal services. It can often be a difficult situation to balance the legal needs of the company with overall internal issues like budget cutbacks and increased regulation. That is why general counsel are beginning to make more demands from their outside counsel, particularly in the areas of flexibility and innovation.

Cost Effective Services

One of the biggest concerns for general counsel would come as no surprise to even an average consumer of legal services: cost effectiveness. In the heyday of Wall Street and a booming economy it may have been easier to demand only the best legal services, which can come with a hefty price tag. Today, companies are generally exercise more control over budgets and not letting expenses spiral out of control. The result is that general counsel want to hire for experience and efficacy, but also must keep a mind towards operational efficiency and cost. A small firm or even solo practitioner may be able to offer services of a comparable quality to a larger firm at a much lower cost and general counsel are starting to take notice. And it doesn’t even necessarily mean a change in firms. Some firms will put their best attorneys on big accounts – but the best attorneys are also the most expensive ones. General counsel is becoming more unwilling to pay the highest rate for the most experienced lawyer when a lower cost option is on the table.

Service Delivery that Makes Sense for Everyone

The answer to the general counsel conundrum is not simply for big law firms to cut their rates and thereby slash their profits. Rather, many general counsel are seeking for new service delivery options overall. For instance, the Association of Corporate Counsel’s 2014 survey of Chief Legal Officers found that 75% of respondents requests an alternative fee arrangement (AFA) with outside counsel, such as fixed fees.
General counsel want more options and more flexibility, which will results in service delivery that works best for both client and law firm. Options that keep companies safe from regulatory intrusion and legal gaffes, but that also keep costs low.

An Alternative is Available

Flexibility in the big, storied law firms is never going to be their strong suit. The tides of change will have to practically drown some of them before they will ever consider working in another way.
That’s why some general counsel are looking to service providers that are completely outside the history of big law. Alternatives like UpCounsel. By hiring solo practitioners and small firms through our online portal, general counsel are able to put together a team that best suits their individual needs, often at a fraction of the cost of employing a larger firm. Lawyers on UpCounsel are able to work at lower rates not because they are lesser lawyers, but because they are able to keep costs low, most notably their overhead. Rarely does a solo practitioner rent office space in an expensive building just to “keep up appearances.” In fact, it is entirely possible to manage an entire team of quality, experienced lawyers without ever meeting them in person. It truly is an alternative way to solicit outside counsel as general counsel.


The untenable state of big law is often a theme on this blog and for good reason. It is not just because the industry is in danger of collapsing in on itself, but because general counsel and those companies that employ big law firms are starting to look elsewhere – and finding exactly what they need.

photo credit: RedJinn: World Peace: What are you doing about it? via photopin cc
Photo by Egan Snow via Flickr

About the author

Matt Faustman

Matt Faustman

Matt is the co-founder and CEO at UpCounsel. Matt believes in the power of online platforms to change antiquated ways of life and founded UpCounsel to make legal services efficiently accessible. He is responsible for our overall vision and growth of the UpCounsel platform. Before founding UpCounsel, Matt practiced as a startup and business attorney.

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