How Virtual GCs Use Legal Tech to Power Client Relationships
For early-stage startups, hiring a General Counsel is rarely at the top of the list. Product, engineering, marketing and sales almost always take priority.
But for a business to scale successfully, especially where investors are involved, having the right legal foundations – intellectual property, company setup and governance, founders’ agreements, investor paperwork, employment – often proves to be a make-or-break issue.
For a growing number of startups and scale-ups, the solution is to hire a Virtual GC. But for Virtual GCs, it’s an increasingly competitive environment – so how can they differentiate? A growing number of Virtual GCs are looking to service delivery – and, specifically, legal technology platforms – to stand out from the crowd.
The Virtual GC – a new career path
The concept of a Virtual GC – aka Fractional GC, Outsourced GC, Startup or Scale-Up Lawyer – is not new. 30 years ago, lawyers in places like Silicon Valley were starting to support fast-growing companies who couldn’t afford to hire a full-time lawyer, or engage a law firm. But what is changing is the scale and sophistication of this part of the legal profession – it has become a career path in its own right.
Entire law firms and legal service providers are springing up to service the demands of startup and scale-up clients. This is great news for startups and scale-ups, who have more choice than ever. But it also puts a greater onus on the service providers to stand out.
How Virtual GCs stand out
It goes without saying that the most effective way for a Virtual GC service to stand out is based on their expertise and track record. Startups often want Virtual GCs who have been there and done that – who have supported a similar company from idea to exit. They’ll often look to their contacts in the startup ecosystem for recommendations, so word-of-mouth is key here too. You represented Airbnb and Uber on their IPOs? Great, you can definitely support my dry cleaning-as-a-service scale-up!
Cost and engagement model are also front and centre in a startup’s decision-making….because, let’s face it, startups cannot afford to engage in the same way as an established corporate buyer of legal services. This is where innovative business models come into play – subscription models (Law-as-a-Service?), fixed fee deals, equity deals (where permitted by Bar regulations) are now the norm rather than the exception.
But there is another, often-overlooked factor here – how the service is delivered.
Is there an app for that?
“You mean to say that while I can see my real-time blood pressure information through my smart watch, and I can manage my bank accounts and tax filings through a mobile app, I cannot access my legal work product without sending three emails?”
Startup founders are busy people. By their nature, they are prone to challenge traditional ways of doing things. And they want a relationship with their lawyer(s) that works like their relationship with their Senior Product Manager or Head of Sales – informal, outcome-orientated and driven by a shared definition of success.
Good Virtual GCs know that their clients have no tolerance for lengthy legal memos, long emails of advice, or a formal lawyer/client relationship that involves having to email their lawyer and wait for a response that begins “I refer to your email of 22 January….”. They typically don’t want “advice”….they want a business solution to a legal problem.
What’s more, startup founders are almost always technology people – and they expect their Virtual GC to use technology in the delivery of their service. That means secure file-sharing, synchronous communications, transparent reporting, and access to legal work product wherever and whenever they need it.
So…Is there an app for that?
Four options for Virtual GCs
Pros: Everyone has it, everyone knows how to use it, and it works well for lengthier communications and advice delivery.
Cons: Startups don’t want lengthier communications! It’s clunky, entirely asynchronous, and creates a “law firm and client” vibe rather than a “shared desk” collaborative vibe. Email has its place, but most Virtual GCs know to use it sparingly with clients.
2. Client portals
Pros: Endlessly configurable. Client portals have been around for 20 years. They often started life as law firm deal rooms or document stores and evolved from there. Portals are often endlessly configurable, which means you can configure them to your precise needs. You want to report to a client on 10 concurrent litigation matters? Portals are good for that, as long as you’re willing to invest in building it out.
Cons: Configure endlessly. Most Virtual GCs don’t have an in-house IT function like a law firm. They’d rather be working with clients than configuring a portal. Portals also work better for things like reporting – pushing information from firm to client. The vibe is more “I’m a provider of legal services, here’s your work product” than “I’m a seamless extension of your team, let’s collaborate back and forth in real-time”.
3. The client’s own system(s)
Pros: There’s no more seamless way to engage with a client than to use their own tools and systems.
Cons: If you’re a Virtual GC, you’ll work with multiple clients. This creates a huge amount of noise – hop into X’s Google Drive, Y’s Sharepoint, and Z’s Slack channel. Staying on top of all those notifications is a daily challenge, and there’s a real risk that you miss things. And if you’re a regulated legal service provider, you need to weigh up whether all these different solutions across different IT environments align with your regulatory obligations. Are you going to get an archive of all those chat messages and documents? Do you always know who’s in the channel? Is privilege protected?
4. Lupl “Shared Desk” platform
Well we did write the blog post, so you probably guessed we were building up to this. But we and a growing number of Virtual GC users really do believe that Lupl is the best of all worlds here because we specifically designed it to be a “Shared Desk” between lawyer and client. In fact, startups were actively involved in the development process for Lupl. Here are some features that Virtual GCs and their clients tell us they love:
a. Secure file-sharing. Lupl offers unlimited storage and a 50 MB file size limit, far higher than email and many portals. And unlike most commercial file-sharing tools, it is specifically designed to align with sector regulations and workflows.
b. Slack and Google Drive integrations. Yes, your client can still live in Slack or Google Drive, because Lupl integrates with both. But you get to manage all client relationships through one platform and have a single source of truth.
c. Works out of the box, no configuration needed. Because who has time for that?
d. Email integration. Where email is needed, you and your client can email the matter, because Lupl auto-generates an email address for each matter. You can even use it for client intake.
e. Mobile app. The Virtual GC and their client can access all work product instantly through a mobile, desktop or web app.
f. Matter templates. If you hate reinventing the wheel, you can spin up a matter template that pre-builds your standard workflow, whether that’s “IP Healthcheck” or “Series A Funding”.
g. Sector-secure and -compliant. Privilege, confidentiality and sector record-keeping are all taken care of.
It’s an exciting time to be a Virtual GC. You get to work every day with innovative companies who are trying to make a dent in the universe. But it’s also competitive out there, and while expertise and fee offerings are always going to be key differentiators, service delivery platforms have an increasingly central role to play. The right platform can help take your Virtual GC offering to the next level.
If you’d like a free live demo of Lupl for Virtual GCs, get in touch today.