One of Atlanta’s largest providers of contract legal services has opened a new space to increase the amount of legal work it handles on-site.
Counsel on Call’s new legal services center occupies a floor of space in Buckhead’s Lenox Towers, at 3390 Peachtree Road.
The Nashville, Tenn.-based company started out in 2000 placing lawyers with firms and in-house law departments on a contract basis. The new space, which Counsel on Call has dubbed a managed services center, is an outgrowth of its work handling discovery for firms and corporate law departments, said Dennis McKinnie, the longtime head of the Atlanta office who was promoted to president in October.
Counsel on Call started an e-discovery division in 2007. From there, it has moved into handling other high-volume, repetitive legal matters that require project-management skills as much as legal expertise, such as contracts, due diligence and employment issues, he said.
“In the past two years, we began to see opportunities to take what we’ve learned in e-discovery and use it to make these other areas more efficient. That’s the name of the game—the more efficient you are, the more cost savings you can present to the clients,” McKinnie said.
“There are a host of industry and practice-area verticals capable of being effectively project-managed. That’s where the growth is taking off,” he said.
The company’s launch of its managed-services center in Atlanta is the next step in what McKinnie said has been “explosive” growth over the past two years.
“It’s like being strapped to a rocket ship. It’s been fun—I’ve gotten to see a lot of territory quickly,” McKinnie said.
McKinnie replaces Jane Allen as president, while Allen, who founded the company in 2000, has stepped into a newly created CEO position. McKinnie started his career as an intellectual property litigator at Powell Goldstein, then served as general counsel for two software companies and helped found two other companies before joining Counsel on Call eight years ago.
Besides Atlanta and Nashville, the company has opened offices in Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Memphis and Charlotte. Its corporate office in Atlanta is in Midtown, at 1180 Peachtree Street in Symphony Tower.
The company’s new space at Lenox Towers can accommodate as many as 150 lawyers. McKinnie said Counsel on Call also has managed-services centers in Nashville and Dallas.
Counsel on Call spokesman Chad Schmidt said legal services work performed by teams of Counsel on Call attorneys for specific clients now accounts for slightly more than half of the company’s business, which still places lawyers at firms or in-house on a contract basis.
Law firms started establishing separate discovery centers back in the 1990s, which gained a reputation for being fluorescent-lit warehouses or basements filled with rows of contract JDs shackled to computer terminals.
Schmidt said Counsel on Call wanted a different atmosphere. It took six months to build out the space, which has windows, a kitchen, a lounge and open work areas where attorneys can collaborate, as well as secure areas for client matters.
“We want to treat people like professionals,” he said.
The lawyers are organized into teams around practice areas, McKinnie said. “To have a cohesive team, people have got to get together. That is what drove getting the space.”
“We have a real estate-related team that takes care of the legal work for acquisitions and build-outs of retailers. There is an employment-related group that handles internal employment matters with oversight by in-house attorneys. And we have contracts teams that take care of the negotiation, management and administration of contracts for Fortune 100 companies,” he said.
McKinnie pointed out that the project management skills needed to run a large discovery project or handle a large volume of contracts are different from traditional lawyering skills.
“It boils down to having excellent project managers—people who are thinking how to do things more efficiently and effectively,” he said, adding that the project managers on the teams are lawyers.
One new area for the company is handling legal matters on-site for universities, which it calls Counsel on Call on Campus.
A university employing thousands of people has many employment issues, McKinnie explained, as well as regulatory matters, litigation and real estate issues, such as procuring leases and approvals for buildings.
“If you look at the university setting, it really is a microcosm of all types of legal services needs. We bundle that together and offer them a palette of legal services that lend themselves to project management,” McKinnie said.
McKinnie said the recession likely has had some impact on the increase in Counsel on Call’s work handling routine legal services, but he pointed out that the pressure to do this work more cost-effectively predates the financial crisis.
“I think we are undergoing a natural evolution, not only of the practice of law but of the way organizations are getting legal services. We’re moving into areas that are more process and workflow-oriented, like the way that contracts are managed,” he said.
The company works directly with in-house law departments and partners with firms, he said.
McKinnie declined to name clients without permission but said the company works locally with the “majority of Atlanta-headquartered companies and almost all of Atlanta’s 20 largest law firms.”
Nationally, clients include one-third of Fortune 100 companies and Am Law 200 firms, he said.
McKinnie said the company prices work both on an hourly basis and by project, using fixed fees.
“Our niche is to look at the cost for the life of a project, rather than the lowest hourly rate,” he said.
Though Counsel on Call is investing in infrastructure to handle clients’ work on an ongoing basis, rather than only supplying lawyers for one-off projects, McKinnie said the model of staffing matters with attorneys who are not employees remains practicable.
If some of a team’s lawyers move on to other things or a project’s size increases, he said, the company can add new people to the team.
The “core reason” attorneys work for Counsel on Call is to have flexibility, “instead of working 60 hours per week,” he said. “We have a very flexible model, and we will continue that. Otherwise, we would not attract great lawyers.”