Running Your Business

Corporate Legal Counsel: When to Call an Attorney


  • As someone who handles HR, when should you call a lawyer? More often than you might think

  • Corporate legal counsel is important for contracts, negotiations, audits, investigations and more

  • It's better to use attorneys too much rather than not often enough

Posted by January 23, 2018

You hired your corporate legal counsel for a reason, but when is the right time to use them?

Sometimes, as a business manager, it can be tough to determine when you should resolve an HR issue internally and when it’s a good idea to bring in a lawyer. Here’s how you can begin to make that determination.

If You Have Any Doubt, Call an Attorney

The first rule of thumb is that if you have any doubt at all, definitely talk to your attorney. If you already have one on retainer, just pick up the phone and ask if your situation needs legal oversight. It’s better to call your attorney too frequently rather than not frequently enough.

However, there are some situations where HR will always need an attorney, as a rule. Some of these include:

As you can see, many regulations can affect employees and the rules can get quite complex. You’re better off if you involve an attorney from the beginning—even when you’re creating your employee handbook. You want to make sure that expectations are understood from the very start.

Handle Interpersonal Issues With Care

Many of the interpersonal issues that HR deals with require the skillful hand of an attorney. If someone is considering suing your business, then, of course, you’ll need to talk to your corporate counsel. But that’s not the only time you’ll need them.

If an employee is talking to HR about sexual harassment or a hostile work environment, then you need an attorney’s advice. In fact, anything involving an issue concerning a protected class (such as discrimination concerns) needs an attorney’s insight. As listed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, discrimination topics that can trigger legal questions include age, disability, equal pay, genetic information, harassment, national origin, pregnancy, race/color, religion, retaliation, sex or sexual harassment.

If anything involving these topics come up, you want to always make sure you’re on the right side of the law. It’s not about creating an “us versus them” mentality in the workplace. It’s about doing things right. Bringing in an attorney is about protecting the employees and the business, so everyone is treated fairly.

Some Businesses Involve Attorneys Early

Some businesses choose to involve corporate counsel in almost all of their decision-making. Rather than having an attorney be someone they go to as a last resort—when all other internal avenues have been pursued—they have an in-house attorney involved in the actual management of the company.

For these businesses, attorneys serve as consultants and leaders. As noted by the Korn Ferry Institute, they advise on strategies and consistently meet with management. They’re often a full-fledged member of senior leadership as well as an attorney.

Determining when to bring in corporate legal counsel isn’t always easy, but it’s better to err on the side of caution. If you’re not sure what time is right, just call your attorney and ask. You can get good insight with a one-on-one conversation before getting anyone else involved.

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