Rey Pascual, Pascual LLC, Atlanta. John Disney/ALM

After 30 years at big firms, securities and M&A lawyer Rey Pascual has gone solo, becoming outside general counsel for several longtime clients.

Pascual spent the last decade at Paul Hastings, serving as its Atlanta office chair for the last three, after 15 years at Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton, which he joined as an associate from Powell Goldstein (now Bryan Cave).

“Paul Hastings is a top law firm. I admire what they do tremendously,” Pascual said. “I decided that 30 years of big law was good enough for me.”

Paul Hastings real estate partner Ted Smith III has succeeded Pascual as the firm’s Atlanta office chair. With Pascual’s departure, the office has 23 lawyers. “We wish Rey all the best with his new practice,” Smith said in an email.

Pascual, 54, said he’d been thinking about what came next for several years. He’s fielded offers to go in-house from several clients but ended up turning them down. “They could not afford me, and I could not afford them,” he said.

Ultimately, he decided he wanted to do his own thing, opening his own shop at Tower Place in Buckhead on July 1.

Going in-house held no appeal for him, but the idea of advising a few clients without the pressures of hourly billing did. “I am ecstatic coming into work—more than in the last few years,” he said.

Pascual said he has three longtime clients on a monthly retainer—all private companies: the Carroll Organization, an Atlanta apartment investor; Vivex Biomedical, a Marietta startup providing bone and tissue regeneration products; and ExWorks Capital in Chicago, which provides export financing for small businesses.

“They pay the same amount whether I spend 10 hours or 100 hours,” Pascual said. “That’s the appealing part. I don’t have to keep track of my time anymore—no more time sheets.”

He likes the flexibility, as well, which includes the ability to take on other clients. “I can be fulltime some of the time, and part time all of the time—not to one client, but to three or four.”

He said he’s keeping track of his time for his other clients but not in any detail. At the end of the month, he sends a bill for what he thinks is fair. “If they have issues they can tell me,” he said.

“People talk a lot about alternative fee arrangements, but the only way that works is if you have an incredibly solid and trusting relationship going both ways—and those are hard to come by these days,” Pascual said.

“Legal departments are under pressure to cut budgets and pay as little as they can, and law firms are under pressure to squeeze every penny out of the client,” he added.

Pascual said he cannot do an initial public offering for a client, because there’s too much complexity and regulation, but he can handle a large acquisition or disposition by bringing in lawyers from outside firms to help with due diligence, document drafting and other tasks.

He figures out how to structure the deal on the front end. “That’s where the value is,” he said.

Lawyers at Kilpatrick and King & Spalding are working on a few matters for his clients, Pascual said, and he’s talking with Paul Hastings about helping with the sale of one client.

But now he’s free to consider other firms that charge lower rates. “Now that I’m outside, I can hire someone else for the level of sophistication I need and the cost the client is willing to bear,” Pascual said. The new arrangement means he can get more involved on the business side for clients.

For example, one of his retainer clients asked him to attend a management meeting in Chicago, which he said wouldn’t have happened at Paul Hastings because, at his hourly rate, the trip would have cost about $15,000.

Previously, the client, in order to avoid such fees, would have called him after the meeting, briefing him on what happened and asking for advice.

“Now it’s part of my retainer,” Pascual said. “If I spend a day or two, it doesn’t really matter to the client or me. It’s fun.”

Setting up the new firm with phones, computers, software and furniture was more time-consuming than he’d anticipated, Pascual said. Luckily, his secretary of 22 years, Michelle Reyes, came with him. She handled most of it, he said.