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Legal Notes: The one-two punch of in-house and external counsel

John Bleasby
Legal Notes: The one-two punch of in-house and external counsel

Blending the talents of in-house corporate counsel with external counsel can be an effective strategy when dealing with major legal issues.

However, it’s a team effort that requires proper co-ordination.

The combination of internal and outsourced resources can take many forms, Krista Chaytor, partner with WeirFoulds LLP told the Daily Commercial News.

“The extent that this partnership works or can work is only really limited by imagination. There are so many ways to make it work.”

Chaytor describes scenarios when a junior in-house counsel can help with document review or drafting. Or perhaps an external legal specialist can be seconded to a client for a period of time to deal with specific issues.

“I find that external counsel can work most effectively with in-house counsel when external counsel are flexible,” said Paul Conrod of Construct Legal. “I think it’s important for external counsel to take on different roles depending on the issue. In-house counsel is also very busy with many competing demands, and external counsel can be used for overflow assistance.”

The relationship between in-house and external counsel will vary, agrees Josh Strub, partner with Margie Strub Construction Law LLP.

“It’s largely dependent upon the nature of the business, the risk profile of the business and its leaders, and the size, capabilities, and expertise of the in-house department.”

However, Strub suggests bringing in external counsel always needs to be strategic.

“In-house counsel should call on outsourced legal counsel where, and only where, the outsourced legal counsel can provide value which cannot be provided by the in-house counsel, or not as efficiently. This will depend on the timing constraints for the particular task and the capacity of the legal department to fit within those constraints.”

Those constraints can be both work volume and expertise.

“The range of issues that in-house counsel has to deal with is enormous, as is the range of knowledge needed,” says Chaytor. “Outsourcing makes sense when there’s an unusual blip or something that in-house don’t usually do, such as a financing or a litigation. That can result in an unusual workload.” 

Given that in-house and external counsels each bring valuable skills to the table, the interplay between the two is important, says Webnesh Haile of Traction Legal.

“In-house counsel will have a good understanding of the organization’s business context, priorities and needs. Therefore, in-house counsel plays an important role in bringing outsourced legal counsel up to speed so that the outsourced work can be completed efficiently and effectively and ensuring that the resulting work product is aligned with the organization’s requirements.”

Chaytor adds the relationship between in-house and external counsel can also create bridges at various company levels where credibility and acceptance is critical.

Diane Laranja, partner with Filion Wakely Thorup Angeletti LLP, agrees, explaining in-house counsel often “sit at the management table levels” and thus provide a vast amount of collective experience developed over time. This insight becomes valuable when developing legal approaches or litigation strategies.

“I consider in-house counsel to be an incredibly valuable resource in acting as the conduit between the client’s objectives or business realities and the legal framework under which we must operate. Speaking as external counsel, in-house counsel often play an important role in our ability to address complex business issues, identify potential areas for concern, and develop an effective litigation strategy.”

At the same time, selecting the right outside counsel is important, says Chaytor.

“You want them to already have a baseline knowledge of how your industry works. That could lead to creative solutions when drafting an agreement, dealing with a problem in the middle of a project, or settling litigation.”

In-house counsel’s ground-level knowledge, their understanding of the business’ objectives, or the issues related to other parties when reaching agreements is critical, she says.

“Having in-house counsel assisting that way is really helpful.”

Chaytor speaks strongly about her positive firsthand experience created through this team approach.

“To be honest, I love it. It’s amazing.”

John Bleasby is a Coldwater, Ont.-based freelance writer. Send comments and Legal Notes column ideas to

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