Editor’s note: Charlotte Beat is a regular feature on Wednesdays.Your General Counsel is off to a fast start.
The startup has grown from two attorneys placed with Charlotte area companies to eight since April, says founder Michael J. Miller.
The company has been so successful it plans to spearhead a “corporate dorm” office space in the Tomkins Toolworks building in Southend next month. “We’re taking three times more space than we need,” says Miller.
YGC will share the 4,000 square feet with recruiting firm Argus Search, Imprimis Financial, and the Metrolina Entrepreneurial Council. Each group will have its own office and will share such facilities as a conference room and service center. “I call it a corporate dorm room, and it’s quite unique,” Miller says.
Miller, formerly in-house counsel for YouCentric, the Charlotte software and customer relationship management firm that sold to J.D. Edwards for $86 million, declined an opportunity to join that firm in Denver.
“Going from a 200-employee company where we were the legal department to a 5,000 employee company in Denver didn’t appeal to us,” Miller tells Local Tech Wire.
New business model
“In January 2002, we launched Your General Counsel Inc., putting together a business model that is totally different from a traditional law firm.” Miller says. Miller explains that by forming YGC as a corporation that places attorneys as independent contractors with young companies that need part-time in-house counsel, the company avoids professional conflicts a regular law firm might have doing the same thing.
“The attorneys basically have their own practice. They’re employed by their clients and are not serving any masters except their clients,” says Miller. YGC places the attorneys, who have relevant practice skills, with a company and takes 20 percent of what the company pays off the top. The attorney, acting as an independent contractor, receives his 80 percent fee from the hiring company directly.
“It’s a format analogous to the Tatum chief financial officer model formed ten years ago in Atlanta,” says Miller. “They grew from one office in Atlanta to 25 or 30 around the country.” Tatum provides companies with part-time in-house CFOs in the same way YGC provides attorneys. YGC-placed attorneys generally earn about $150 an hour.
“If you looked at us, you would think we were twins separated at birth, but I was unaware of the Tatum model when I started YGC,” says Miller. “But it grew to 1,000 clients and 30 offices nationally. What I take from that is the market is telling them the same thing it’s telling us.”
Young companies in particular often need attorneys or CFOs who know the firm’s business intimately and have undivided loyalties. But the startups don’t need them often enough or can’t afford to hire them on a full time in-house basis.
One reason the business model seems to be working so well, Miller says, is that YGC’s attorneys will work with a client’s outside counsel. Ethical considerations in the legal profession make it improper to solicit clients away from such outside attorneys and this relationship avoids that conflict, he says.
Looking beyond tech
Miller says that YGC intends to expand beyond its technology focus. “We started off with tech because of our relationship with YouCentric, which was viewed as a success story when it sold, and that resonated with the tech community here.
“Now we’re trading far less off of the fact that we were YouCentric’s attorneys and more on the idea that YGC has a business model that really works. We’ve attracted attorneys with expertise in health care, real estate and other areas who will use their own practice expertise with their own clients.”
YGC has placed attorneys with several prominent young Charlotte tech firms, including MindBlazer, Rollover Systems, and Quaero. Miller says YGC has obtained most of its clients through referrals coming from accounting firms and members of the venture capital community who want to be sure their portfolio companies protect their intellectual property, among others.
Miller says YGC has connections with potential clients and attorneys in Charleston, SC, and may open its next office there.
Tour General Counsel: www.yourgc.biz