Trista Engel is the Chief Executive Officer of Paragon Legal, which connects in-house legal departments with skilled, experienced attorneys on an interim basis.

Trista sat down with the Evolve the Law Podcast to discuss how interim attorneys can help in-house lawyers balance their workloads, reduce spending on outside counsel, and tackle projects related to ever-changing areas of the law, like privacy. She also broke down what Paragon looks for in the attorneys it hires and explained the process of matching legal departments with the right attorneys for their needs.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Trista Engel, CEO of Paragon Legal.

ETL: What is Paragon Legal?

Paragon provides attorneys on an interim or on-demand basis to in-house legal departments. We support our clients in everything from backfilling maternity leaves and hiring gaps to just general overflow work. We help support the team in a cost-effective and flexible manner.

ETL: Have you seen a growing market for interim attorneys as a result of the pandemic?

Yes, but I think it was happening even before the pandemic.

 There’s been a growing interest in — and acceptance of — doing legal work in a different way. That comes from attorneys who are saying they want a path outside the traditional legal career path. 

They want more flexibility. It’s also coming from legal departments that are saying, ‘We want to be able to do things differently and more cost-effectively.’ 

So, even before the pandemic, we were seeing a growing acceptance of this model because it provides flexibility and a more efficient way of getting legal work done.

ETL: What are some of the obstacles or issues with the current law firm model? 

One piece is just that the law firm model has existed in its current form for a really long time. But honestly, I don’t think it’s a business obstacle, so much as it doesn’t make sense for law firms to do every piece of legal work. 

There are areas of legal work that should be reserved for law firms, but there are areas that are more efficiently done in other ways. And that’s where Paragon fits in. 

Our piece of the puzzle is legal work that can be done in-house, but for numerous reasons, the in-house team doesn’t have the resources to handle it. Historically, that meant your only option was to go to outside counsel. 

But with Paragon, you can get someone with really solid in-house experience who becomes an embedded part of your team, for a fraction of the cost of outside counsel.

ETL: Who is the most in need of interim counsel? 

Our typical customer is a legal department that has at least several lawyers. Our clients range from one attorney up to hundreds of attorneys, but it’s really any established, in-house legal department. 

Because any in-house legal department is going to have ebbs and flows in work, cost considerations, and expertise needs. And we can provide a better way of getting that work done.

ETL: Do you have a favorite story that shows the difference of having Paragon implemented in the law department?

Yeah, I have a lot. The most fun I think we have is when a client hasn’t really tried this way of working before. 

When they do, and they bring on a Paragon attorney, they realize, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve been managing this workload on my own the whole time.’ 

Or, ‘I’ve been spending millions of dollars with my outside counsel. And I just didn’t even know this was an option.’ 

That’s the most fulfilling — when we can open their eyes and help them see that it’s a better, more sustainable way of working.

ETL: What do you look for in attorneys who are a part of your network? 

We hire fewer than about 2% of the applications we receive, so we’re really looking for people who have a good reason for wanting to do project work. And there are so many different reasons. 

There are some folks who come to us who say, ‘I just don’t want to do the grind of 80 hours a week at a law firm,’ or ‘I don’t even want to do the grind of 60 hours or 50 hours a week in-house. I want to have a more manageable, sustainable lifestyle. But I’m good at what I do and I want to keep doing it.’ 

We hire a very small proportion of our applicants because we pride ourselves in attracting and retaining top quality talent. They’re very experienced and can jump in without skipping a beat.

ETL: What are the areas of the law where you’re seeing the most demand from your customer clients?

We’re seeing a huge uptick in demand for privacy experts. There’s so much regulation and it’s all relatively new. 

We’re seeing a huge demand for folks who have that expertise, can help set up privacy programs, and can help with compliance with all the new privacy laws. 

Another big one is M&A and IPO readiness. There has not been a slowdown in the number of companies going public in various forms or fashions, so we’re seeing a lot of demand for IPO readiness. 

And then our bread and butter, which never slows down, is commercial and technology transactions.

ETL: If I want to onboard a Paragon attorney, what is the process?

The onboarding process with Paragon is super easy. You can get in touch with us through our website or [email protected]

We ideate on what’s the right level of support and how we can help solve your problem. Then we go back to our team and find someone who is going to be the right fit. 

We’ll provide a couple of options, and then we help you through the interview and onboarding process. 

We’re very high-touch throughout the onboarding process, and we’re also very high-touch when it comes to making sure the engagements are going smoothly. 

We pride ourselves in our ability to match your company with the right attorney.

ETL: How can our audience learn more about Paragon Legal?

Contact us. You can go to our website or our LinkedIn. We are incredibly responsive and we’re excited to talk to you.