Forum Magazine Exclusive: Fenwick & West’s Attorney-for-Hire Unit Thrives amid Legal Industry Changes

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Several years back, West Coast law firm Fenwick & West started hearing rumblings from some of its bread-and-butter clients — small or start-up tech companies that required a lot of legal transaction and licensing work. Then Fenwick noticed that some of these clients were sending that work out to smaller firms and even solo practitioners, because they could not afford to hire a full-time law firm of Fenwick’s  status.

In response, the firm took an unusual tack. It thought small.

The firm created FLEX by Fenwick, a way to recapture those drifting clients by offering high-quality legal work done by a stable of attorneys who carry the Fenwick label for a price considerably lower – sometimes as much as half the cost – than hiring the full firm.

“This really came out of us looking at what our clients needed, how their businesses were evolving and how they consumed legal services,” said Ralph M. Pais, a Partner in Fenwick’s Technology Transactions unit and the person who launched FLEX by Fenwick in 2010. “At the very beginning, we focused FLEX on principally doing commercial transactions for technology companies.” Far from a typical staffing shop, the FLEX program allows clients to bring in a highly trained, experienced legal team or a single lawyer, depending on the client’s need. The typical FLEX client would be one that needs a lot of day-to-day commercial work done, but is not yet ready to build an in-house legal function. FLEX attorneys work with the client, at the client’s office and during the client’s business hours, becoming a part of (or the entirety of) the client’s legal team.

That was more than five years ago, and now the FLEX program has begun flexing its own muscles within the firm, benefiting from a legal environment that thrives on innovation, flexibility and, of course, reduced pricing. FLEX is growing at a rate of about 40% to 50% annually, and has recently brought in new management to carry the firm-within-a-firm to the next level. (FLEX’s financials roll up into Fenwick & West, however, the firm does not disclose the unit’s revenue or profit.)

In early December, Fenwick announced that Carole Coplan would be the new general manager of FLEX by Fenwick. Coplan comes from the corporate side, previously holding several leadership positions at top tech companies, including vice president of business development at Cryptography Research, a subsidiary of tech licensing giant Rambus. She also served as general counsel at both Responsys and Epylon.

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