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The Freedom of Being Part-Time General Counsel

Updated: Nov 21, 2022

There is something distinctly not fun about client services in many traditional law firms. The problems are (at least) twofold in nature:

Bill, Bill, Bill, Legal Fees, Legal Fees, Legal Fees

There is conversation that happens a million times in a million ways a year by the lawyers who work in traditional law firms: “How much did you bill last year, last month, last week,” etc. The answers are many and varied. But it’s about amassing legal fees. That’s what makes a traditional law firm lawyer truly successful.

The pressures of the billing culture can lead lawyers to value projects that involve massive due diligence, massive document productions, and massive wastes of time on a broader scale when it comes to what Elon Musk calls actually creating value rather than lawyering the world to death.

Keeping track of one-tenth increments of hours – every 6 minutes – is not only a matter for countless lawyer jokes. “I saw you across the street, I crossed to say hello to you, it turned out it wasn’t you at all, so I crossed the street again – 0.1 hours ($80).” Even if 6 minutes was spent productively, the next 6 minutes may have been spent in part surfing the Internet, going to bathroom, etc. So it’s a difficult task to bill by six-minutes increments and still remain honest. And that inherent difficulty is a tremendous stressor for the vast majority of honest attorneys. They are stuck in a catch-22: If they count all of their time, even if not efficiently spent, they’re unjustifiably taking money out of the pockets of their clients. On the other hand, if they cut their hours by too much to take into account the non-productive time (which they can only estimate approximately), they may be unjustifiably taking money from their law firm. The knowledge that – even with computer-based timers – the hourly billing task is inherently inaccurate and even dishonest is a stressor for lawyers young and old.

Finally, as the expectation of high levels of billable hours drives lawyers to spend long, grueling days and nights at the office, lawyers find that the “how many hours did you bill” question becomes a constant bugaboo, driving them to inhuman levels of imbalanced and unhealthy living, both physically and emotionally.

The Hired Gun Is Not Usually a Happy Gun

Lawyers are known as “hired guns,” but that doesn’t always make for great job satisfaction. A mercenary is usually happiest when he enjoys fighting for the cause he’s fighting for, and if that same mercenary gets the short end of the stick – say the Hessians fighting against the American colonists during the Revolutionary War – that can be not fun, to say the least. By the same token, lawyers as human beings enjoy working with clients who fit well with their personalities and qualities of character, and not all fits are great. If you have to serve any client who comes through the door, regardless of how odious as is often the case where billable hours are king, that leads to a certain level of dissatisfaction.

For these twofold reasons, the fractional general counsel services solution is increasingly being sought out not only by small- to mid-size companies who greatly benefit from fractional general counsel services, but also by lawyers who are seeking to move way from the billable hour model to the monthly retainer model and are seeking to work for clients whom they appreciate and who in turn appreciate them. The fractional general counsel services model has generated many online solutions that are likely to provide far greater job satisfaction to an increasing number of business lawyers across the country and world. One particularly exciting new such platform is Inside Outside Counsel.

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