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Rent-a-Counsel : Mobile Lawyer Keeps Costs Down in Serving Start-Ups

Small Business | LEARNING CURVE: LAW OFFICE OF BARBARA
A. FRANTZ

November 26, 1996

Attorney Barbara A. Frantz wanted to work with small businesses, but most of them can't afford to keep a lawyer on staff. So she became a general-counsel-for-rent and created a portfolio practice that relies on a network of subcontractors to provide a full range of legal services. Frantz was interviewed by Karen Kaplan.

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When I graduated from law school, I wanted to become a patent attorney. But after working as a general counsel for a friend's construction company, I was hooked on small business.

I decided to combine my love of practicing law with my love of small businesses by starting my own practice that specializes in working with start-up companies and making sure they are set up properly. I call myself a general-counsel-for-rent.

I have about 250 clients, but most of them only need me once in a while. About four of them are using me on a regular basis, and in any given month I'll have a total of 15 or 20 active clients.

A general counsel is like a diagnostician. I can do the basic things, but when it comes to a specialty, like trademarks or litigation, I will delegate that to an attorney who concentrates in that field.

By farming out that legal work just as it needs to be done, I can save my clients money. I also save them time by working with the other lawyers myself. A fair amount of a business owner's time is spent explaining their business to a new lawyer, but I already know what's going on with a company.

I knew that I would need a body of other attorneys, as well as accountants, graphic artists and all kinds of professionals that help a small business get started. It's not that unusual for an attorney to have a network of people they go to for expertise, but I draw from a much larger group of people than most lawyers. I also keep track of more categories--like insurance agents and auto repair shops--because they are more useful for a small business.

I was determined to have a flexible lifestyle, and I didn't want to get into a situation where I had so much overhead that I'd be constantly scrambling to find new business. I don't need to spend a lot of time on marketing to generate new business because I work hard to develop long-term relationships with my existing clients. It's much easier to maintain a customer than to start from scratch.

I spend most of my time in their offices--like a regular general counsel--working from my laptop. My phone system is set up so that my assistant can transfer a call to me no matter where I am. She can even forward a call to my cell phone.

I decided I didn't need to spend a lot of money maintaining a super-fancy office with high overhead. It took some of my clients a little getting used to, but I pass along the savings to them. They're not concerned about the trappings or the image but whether I get the job done.

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AT A GLANCE

Company name: Law Office of Barbara A. Frantz

Owner: Barbara A. Frantz

Nature of business: General counsel for rent

Location: Encino

Year founded: 1988

Number of employees: 2

Annual sales: $240,000

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