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About 10 years ago, Caryl Shuham went part time at her job as general counsel to a national mechanical contracting firm so she could spend more time with her young children. Her stint as a part-timer gave birth to the idea behind the law firm she later founded with her husband. The concept was to offer high-quality attorneys to serve as general counsel on an as-needed basis and at a cut-rate price. Shuham didn’t have to look far for a partner in the venture. Her husband, Martin Shuham, had logged 20 years at Holland & Knight, handling contracts, real estate, development and hospitality issues. He said that, based on his wife’s experience working part time as general counsel, the couple came up with a model that they thought would work. Three years ago, the Shuhams hung their shingle at an office building near Fort Lauderdale and set about building their firm. Martin Shuham said business is going well. He said small and mid-sized companies that formerly would handle certain legal matters — such as reading a contract or resolving an employment dispute — themselves rather than shell out serious cash for a large law firm now call his firm. “The CFOs and CEOs are usually so appreciative of the fact that they no longer have to do what a lawyer should be doing,” he said. The Shuhams aren’t the first to market themselves as outsourced legal counsel. A large New York firm, Axiom Legal, markets itself in much the same way: general counsel on call at bargain prices. But the Shuhams’ two-lawyer structure is uncommon, and their strategy is unique in the South Florida market, according to Martin Shuham, and law firm consultants questioned for this article. “I’ve heard of two or three groups that hold themselves out as that,” said Rees Morrison, New Jersey-based director of law department consulting for Hildebrandt International, a law firm consultant. Axiom was the only example Morrison could cite of outsourced general counsel services. Morrison questioned whether there was actually any difference between a contract general counsel firm and a regular law firm. “The line is blurred between them and a real law firm,” he said. Shuham said his firm in Plantation, Fla., is different: It focuses only on general-counsel type services, and it works on building a relationship with a small number of companies rather than casting a wide net in search of business. Clients also pay for the Shuhams’ services on an as-needed basis and can put their services on hold when they are not needed. Their client list is varied, including Dreams Inc., a publicly traded company; Bluegreen Corp., a time-share and golf community developer; and John J. Kirlin Inc., the mechanical contracting firm where Caryl Shuham worked part time in the 1990s. And for Shuham & Shuham’s clients, the line between their firm and other local firms is the difference in the cost. Plantation-based Dreams Inc., a publicly traded company that deals mainly in sports memorabilia, hired the Shuhams about two years ago. Perhaps fittingly, the firm’s relationship with the company began on the fields of the Plantation athletic leagues, where the Shuham children played sports with the children of a Dreams executive. David Greene, senior vice president of Dreams, said the company now gets right of first refusal on all Dreams legal work. Prior to its relationship with the Shuhams, Dreams didn’t have in-house counsel and used large firms to handle its legal work. “We were obviously being charged as such,” Greene said. “The billing rates we have with Shuham are of tremendous value. You couldn’t get a paralegal at the other firms that we deal with for what they charge.” Shuham & Shuham bills itself as costing half of what another law firm would charge for a partner to do similar work. Martin Shuham declined to give specific rates for services, saying that they varied. He also declined to comment on the firm’s profits. He said he and his wife value efficiency and keep overhead low. That, he said, is how they are able to offer a substantially lower rate. For example, using the client company’s staff and office supplies, rather than relying on their own, is one way the Shuhams cut costs. Operating out of clients’ offices allows them to have a bare-bones office and staff and allows them to pass on savings to clients. Clients gain other cost benefits as well. Unlike hiring a general counsel, companies that hire the Shuhams don’t have to directly foot the cost of health insurance and other benefits. And with the Shuhams, clients know work will not be passed on to a first-year associate. The couple has no associates, or any other partners. The couple keeps their client list relatively small at about 20 to 30 clients, so that they can handle the work and maintain close relationships with clients. So far the model is working and hasn’t been substantially changed since the firm opened, Martin Shuham said. Morrison, who works extensively with general counsel, expressed some skittishness about the model. “It is not common,” Morrison said. “Is it wise and likely to succeed is the next question.” Morrison said for such a firm to make it, it would have to identify and carve out a niche in its market. He said legal savvy for hire could be a plausible business model if they offered something to differentiate themselves from regular law firms — for example, offering to serve as an intermediary to other law firms in times of legal need. But for the Shuhams, business is good. In fact, Martin Shuham said, clients often question why there aren’t more similar games in town. “I think that’s what surprises the clients, that no other law firms are doing what we’re doing,” he said.

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