For the past six weeks, legal services entrepreneur Andrew Dick has been traveling the country, gathering existing members and recruiting new ones for his virtual network of boutique lawyers, Select Counsel.
Atlanta was the final stop last week on the eight-city tour, which began soon after Select Counsel launched in earnest nationwide in October.
“It’s a new way for sophisticated clients, like GCs at big companies, to access high quality legal services in a much more cost-effective and efficient manner than big firms,” said Dick, who previously worked at Gibson Dunn & Crutcher in New York and then Morrison & Foerster in San Francisco.
Since Nov. 1, Dick, who is based in San Francisco, had visited Boston, New York, Washington, Portland, Seattle, Dallas and Austin to host similar events for Select Counsel members.
Dick sees the network as a way to connect former Big Law attorneys now running their own shops with corporate legal chiefs seeking alternatives to large firms—and each other. Having the lawyers in the Select Counsel network actually know each other is important, he said.
“It’s not simply a platform or a website directory,” Dick said. “We’re really trying to build a community where the lawyers know each other and know each other’s practice. It makes it easier to work together.”
There are about 300 lawyers in the Select Counsel network now in 40 cities, Dick said, and he hopes to add another 150 in the next six months. He’s also got 25 international lawyers lined up. Last month, Select Counsel rolled out its new website and a national marketing campaign.
“We will have 500 lawyers soon—in 25 countries. I think that speaks to how sound the model is,” Dick said. “If a big firm opens an office in Dubai, it’s a big deal. I’m adding two Dubai lawyers in the next two months, as well as in Japan, the Cayman Islands and Europe.”
The lawyers that Dick invites into the network have Big Law experience and top-tier pedigrees. With an average of 20 years’ experience practicing law and 10 years working at Am Law 200 firms, he said, they’re the same caliber of lawyers a GC could find at a large firm.
Members pay a $950 annual fee to join, and in-house lawyers can access the network at no charge.
There are about 15 Select Counsel members in Atlanta so far, Dick said, and 10 turned out for the Dec. 7 gathering at Gordon Biersch in Buckhead, plus a few other lawyers interested in joining.
One of the Atlanta attendees, Preston Delashmit, signed up right after the get-together.
“I think Andy’s got the right idea,” he said of the model of a virtual network of specialized solos and boutiques who know each other in real life. “It helps you develop that rapport and know who the go-to person is for so many disciplines.”
Delashmit headed the local business law practice group at Holland & Knight until 2005, then tried other big firms, including Duane Morris, before starting his own shop eight years ago. He advises closely-held businesses in M&A transactions, with a focus on Employee Stock Ownership Plan deals that allow business owners to defer capital gains taxes.
Dick invited Delashmit to the Gordon Biersch meetup after they connected on LinkedIn. Delashmit said he ran into two longtime colleagues at the gathering, Dan Dinur and Anthony DeLuca of Dinur and DeLuca, who have both joined Select Counsel
An increasing number of referrals are coming from members, Dick said, as the network expands.
“We want people who are active participants and who understand the value of networking with other lawyers,” he said, as well as a “nice distribution of practices in each city.”
“These high-caliber lawyers tend to focus on pretty specialized practices, whether trademark or tax,” Dick explained. “If something is outside their expertise, they bring in another lawyer.”
In a case where a GC hires a team of solos for a project, Dick said, they would likely unite under one umbrella entity for the project, so it’s one engagement between the company and a collection of lawyers.
“That’s why this community and networking aspect is so important to Select Counsel,” he said. “The stronger the relationships and the community aspect of the network, the better they can work together on a single matter to service one client.”
So far, the Atlanta members have practices in corporate and securities, employment, real estate, tax, IP and brand protection, plus business litigation. (Dick noted that the business litigators are the easiest to find.)
Big Law Alternative
Leaving Big Law to go solo might have carried a stigma a decade ago, but now lawyers who spin off to form specialist boutiques are admired, Dick said.
“GCs see lawyers leaving big firms left and right to start their own practices, so they know they’re out there—and they want access to them,” Dick said.
“Using these boutiques is seen as savvy and cost-effective at a time when the legal budget is under constant pressure,” he said. “GCs understand the value proposition. For a smaller matter, why hire Latham to do the matter when you can hire a boutique of former Latham partners to do the work at a fraction of the price?”
Dick acknowledged that big firms often refer smaller matters to alumni who’ve started their own shops. That can be to a firm’s advantage, since the solo lawyers are a known quantity and they don’t work for a competitor that could poach the client for larger matters. But Dick said the reach of that word-of-mouth network is limited.
He offered a scenario: A smaller matter comes in the door that a GC knows would be suited for a boutique. “They see if they have existing relationships or ask colleagues for a referral. If that does not produce a good option, then, more than likely, they are going to send it to the big firm. That’s the easy solution, even though they know it’s not cost-effective.”
That is the point where Dick hopes they will turn to Select Counsel instead.
Dick, 35, said his own legal career was the genesis for Select Counsel. He grew up in the Bay Area, earned a B.A. from the University of Michigan, then attended law school at New York University. After practicing as a corporate associate at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher in New York, he moved to Morrison & Foerster in San Francisco, and then in 2013 started his own firm, Headlands Law Group, advising startups and venture capital firms on transactions.
“I got great training and experience from the big firms and then applied all that to the small-firm setting with very reasonable rates. I quickly discovered that the service I was providing was in high demand, particularly for clients who also used big firms,” he said.
“That got me thinking that these high-end boutique practices could be in really high demand if they were easier to access and find,” he said.
The solution: a network that would make the lawyers more visible to clients and one another. He started assembling the Select Counsel network just over a year ago and launched an initial website in October 2016.
Selling the Model
Now that Dick’s lawyer network is gaining critical mass, he’s focused on getting the word out to prospective clients.
To make it easy for busy in-house lawyers, he offers them hands-on help in finding the right team. Rather than spend time searching the Select Counsel online directory, in-house honchos can contact Dick directly via the Select Counsel website.
“I like to think of it as a legal concierge-type service,” he said. “Our brand and reputation are going to be everything to be successful—and the most-important thing we do is recommend attorneys,” Dick added.
In 2018 Select Counsel plans to roll out free CLE programming for corporate law departments presented by its members via networks and associations for in-house counsel.
The aim is to “provide marketing exposure for our members while also delivering high-quality content to in-house lawyers,” Dick said, adding that GCs might have dozens of lawyers on staff needing CLE credit.
So far he’s self-funded his endeavor from savings, but Dick does not rule out outside financing down the road. Revenue so far comes from the annual dues from participants.
“Right now, we’re not too focused on revenue,” he said. “We care more about adoption and market penetration.”