A law department head explains the consistency and long-term benefits of corporate counsel on-demand.

It’s no secret that startups tend to maintain lean legal teams. As a result, unique challenges can emerge when they need to adjust to the absence of a key contributor.

That was the case for Synack — a series D startup with a two-person legal team focused on cybersecurity tech — when its corporate counsel went on maternity leave for several months last year.

This was no simple challenge. The new addition would need to oversee all of the various service agreements and contracts negotiated by Synack.

Steve Soper, Synack’s Vice President of Legal, couldn’t do it alone. And kicking all of the needed work to outside counsel would dramatically increase his spending.

Steve turned to the interim counsel model, which provides an embedded team member at a significant discount to Biglaw rates and without the commitment of a full-time hire. He interviewed several candidates to seek the perfect fit.

Paragon Legal introduced Steve to David , a lawyer with two decades of experience that includes serving as a general counsel and associate general counsel at public and private companies.

“Our legal team is asked to pick up any and all types of issues that come through the door, so you have to be a little flexible in terms of being able to manage different types of tasks,” Steve says. “You can’t really be a peer subject-matter expert and only do one thing here.”

“David was able to fill that void for us during that period of time.”

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Getting Started

When Steve first considered bringing on flexible counsel, he was introduced to Paragon through his company’s HR team.He had a short call with Tracy Scanlan, Paragon’s Director of Client Development, to relay what his needs were.

Paragon then searched through its database of lawyers to find an exact fit for Synack’s legal team, and set up interviews with “three or four high-quality candidates,” Steve remembers.

The candidates had different levels of experience and different price points, allowing Synack to tailor the fit to its exact business needs.

Steve selected David after interviewing the candidates, and in less than two weeks, David was ready to work with the company.

“If there was a delay it was probably on me, and not on the Paragon team,” Steve jokes. “They were very helpful.”

The First Engagement

When he joined the Synack team, David effectively oversaw all of the contract issues, and was able to help in other areas as well, weighing in on employment questions and other corporate-type matters.

At Synack, a key legal department responsibility is also the quick turnaround of contract review when requested by the sales team.

The department has an internal SLA, or service-level agreement, where the response should be within three business days, Steve says. David was extremely helpful in ensuring the department continued to meet that benchmark.

“If there was an urgency of, ‘Hey, please review this,’ he always made time even in off-hours like in the evening for calls,” Steve says. “He was very responsive in terms of making sure that all of his work was timely and we weren’t missing any response time goals.”

Finding the right cultural fit was also important.

“Overall from a cultural perspective, he got up to speed quickly with how we communicated internally, using our messaging platforms, and it was a seamless transition,” Steve says.

Steve also notes that an additional benefit of interim counsel is flexibility of scheduling.

Synack engaged David for about 20 hours a week, and, Steve says, David was “always around.”

This allowed him to be engaged for 15 minutes or 30 minutes at a time on demand, only billing for the time he’s engaged.

A Second Engagement

With talented lawyers at a premium, a law department’s key members can be lured away at any time, and those roles can be hard to fill.

It’s a dynamic that’s particularly well-suited to the interim counsel model.

“Having that kind of background support structure in Paragon, where if we have an immediate need they have a pool of people they can call on to help us out, that’s a big relief for me,” Steve says.

Synack turned to that support structure after David’s engagement ended and the company’s corporate counsel left to join another tech startup.

Having worked with David before, Steve was able to re-engage him for a second interim counsel role after reaching out to Paragon.

David was able to “plug back in” on very short notice, Steve remembers.

“It was super helpful on the second engagement that he already had that kind of experience before and also the institutional knowledge of the business and the issues we really care about,” Steve says. “Having that resource was a super big help.”

He also said that even if David wasn’t available, he’s confident that Paragon can deliver another top attorney.

“At Paragon, so far, the people we’ve talked to have all been high-caliber candidates,” Steve says. “So I feel like even if David’s not available next time, I guarantee you can find someone else to do it as well. So that’s nice.”

Thinking Long-Term

Eventually, Synack hired a permanent replacement for the corporate counsel role, and David’s engagement came to an end — for the time being. With the ebbs and flows of Synack’s contract work, an eventual return is probable.

“Sometimes our contract work is cyclical, where there could be a month or two where there’s high demand in terms of contracts,” Steve says. “And so I could see us tapping him on the shoulder, and saying, ‘Hey, this is our big quarter. Can you come help on a couple of contracts?’”

And then there’s the deep familiarity with the operations of an organization that the interim counsel model provides, which is especially important for a company like Synack.

As a company that offers a unique service, the specialized knowledge required in the law department does not come without effort and experience — knowledge that David now has.

Steve is pleased to have this type of relationship moving forward.

“Given his knowledge of the company, it’s just super-nice, from my perspective, to be able to say, ‘Hey David, can you come back for a couple weeks to look at some contracts?’” Steve says.

“And I don’t have to go through the whole retraining process, which does take some time.”

Being Prepared

So, what can other companies learn from Steve’s experience with interim counsel at Synack?

It’s most important, Steve says, to plan ahead.

“Sometimes these needs where you have to find an external resource can come up quickly, right?” he says. “The need can just pop up out of nowhere.”

That’s why establishing strong relationships with outside vendors, even when you don’t have an immediate need, is an important step for law departments to take.

And, as David’s time at Synack showed, interim counsel can provide highly effective support to a legal team in a time of need, whether that is a leave of absence or general excess support.

“If you could plan ahead for that and develop a relationship with Paragon or other kind of similar staffing agency, I think that would be a huge help,” Steve says.

“If this need arises again, I can call Tracy and say, ‘Hey Tracy, we need a new lawyer. And I already have this kind of relationship where I can trust her finding the right person for us.”