As a Senior Consultant at Seven Legal, Stephanie Dominy’s Fractional GC practice provides comprehensive outsourced in-house support to early-stage and scaling businesses, their founders, and legal teams. With a focus on strategy and practicality, she delivers proactive guidance to ensure her clients can confidently navigate the legal landscape and achieve their objectives.
“I realized that I like the early-to-mid stage in a company when everybody's still wearing many different hats, and you're turning your hand wherever needed. So whether it's commercial negotiations, building the go-to-market strategy or legal ops, balancing commercial and legal risk, advising the board on compliance, or expansion into new territories, that’s the variety I like, and that’s what I'm doing now - using the skills that I have taken from my time in in-house roles to apply to other startups.”
Before practicing as a Fractional GC, Stephanie was associated with multiple companies in the UK, including Snyk, Travelport, Kuoni Group, GTA, and Next15, where she served as a legal advisor and corporate counsel responsible for advising the businesses in all manner of legal issues.
In a conversation with SpotDraft, Stephanie shared insights and expertise on how to become a Fractional GC and balance engagements as one advances in their career. She sheds light on how a Fractional GC can embed itself into a business, becoming part of the team while remaining an external resource.
Why the Role of Fractional GC is On the Rise
The legal landscape has changed dramatically in recent years. Companies, particularly small ones, are looking for cost-effective ways to bring in generalist legal resources without the commitment of hiring a full-time in-house general counsel (GC). They want an extension of their in-house expertise but don’t need it 5 days a week yet. This is where Fractional GCs come in.
Stephanie, a lawyer since 1997, has been at the forefront of this trend. She started offering this service almost by accident in 2016, when she had a small number of clients who grew to rely on her, treating her as one of their own team members. The engagements would demand that she was on the companies’ Slack workspaces, sometimes had a company email address, and attended company meetings and off-sites.
This eventually led to a full-time, permanent role as General Counsel at Snyk, a cybersecurity startup that was then a small pre-Series A startup and that is now a Series G, pre-IPO category leader in application security for developers. Since leaving Snyk in 2022, she has relaunched her practice and merged it with Seven Legal, bringing her unique experience to Seven Legal’s seed to the Series B client base.
“The beauty of being a Fractional GC is that I can help a company scale up their legal function in a flexible way until they reach the point where they need to hire their first in-house lawyer, in which case I can help them with that first hire. I can lend them my experience of building legal teams from scratch and recruiting lawyers and I can do that far better because of my intimate knowledge of the company’s needs. For both sides, this is a win-win - the business gets to hire a part-time experienced GC to take care of its growing legal function and, the GC gets to build a varied portfolio of interesting clients. ”
Getting Started as a Fractional GC
Stephanie suggests several ways to offer a Fractional GC service, but a common route is by setting yourself up as an independent legal consultant, (the manner of which depends on the jurisdiction and its regulatory framework).
Going at it alone is possible if one has a large network of potential clients, but it can be lonely and precarious, like any other sole practitioner. Joining a law firm or an Alternative Legal Service Provider (ALSP) is an alternative route to offer the service, which has the benefit of teaming up with other consultants or specialists for more comprehensive client offerings. It also has the added advantage of sharing the cost of back-office admin, insurance, marketing, and business development.
“It's all about the strength of your network and your ability to attract new business. If you don't feel confident in generating a solid, dependable pipeline of work, then you should consider joining an established group of consultants or a firm.”
According to Stephanie, you should:
- Decide on your set-up: Determine whether you want to establish your own brand or work with a firm that sees value in your practice. Some manage to do both!
- Strengthen your network: Use LinkedIn and/or a website to describe your services and demonstrate how your expertise can help potential clients. Boost your personal brand on social media by posting articles to show that you’re a thought leader, and engaging with your network. Share your experiences on panels and workshops, accept invitations to speak in public, and show up at events. Never underestimate the power of just showing up consistently!
- Find a way to reach people: You can use LinkedIn to market your services, but the most meaningful connections are the real people you have met over the course of your career. Don’t lose touch with them. You never know when they might remember you and refer you to someone that needs your services.
“For young people who are just starting their career, you need to build your network as soon as you can. Never lose touch with people that you meet in real networking events; make sure you get people's details, follow up, and reach out every so often because you never know when you're going to need them., When you realize you need a big network, it’s often too late to start building it, so start early.”
Stephanie recommends going to legal or specialist conferences and events, and joining legal communities like Crafty Counsel, or industry communities in your city like London Tech Drinks, etc.
Top Priorities for a Fractional GC
As a Fractional General Counsel (GC), one of the key priorities is to provide legal guidance to a company that aligns with its business objectives. According to Stephanie, a Fractional GC must consider these as their top priorities:
#1 Understanding the business
As a Fractional GC, just as an in-house GC, you must understand the business and its big objectives. This understanding helps you provide legal and business advice that aligns with the business strategy, helping the company to see around corners, anticipate risks, stay ahead of regulatory changes, and achieve its goals. Help the business to prioritize, because you need to ensure that they use your time wisely.
“You need to bucket all the things that the company would like you to do into high, medium and low priorities and give them a realistic expectation of what can be achieved. Think of setting objectives as pebbles, stones, and boulders. The small, day-to-day tasks are the pebbles. The stones are things that you can achieve within about a month. The boulders are things that might be quarter-to-quarter or might even go over two quarters. Everything needs to be measured in terms of the value and effort.”
When you start as a Fractional GC with a new client, you will need to conduct meetings with senior management, department heads, and other key stakeholders to gain an understanding of the company's strategic priorities. These discussions help to identify legal risks and opportunities that align with the company's overall strategy, as well as building important relationships (see below)
#2 Build trusted relationships
As a Fractional GC, you differentiate yourself from other external advisors by having an insider’s view, which is essential to identify and manage legal risks and design compliant processes that suit the business needs.. Make yourself known to all parts of the business, from finance, to the people team, to the product and sales folks. Get in front of them by joining their meetings, being active in their communication channels, and make sure they know you’re there to help. Hold workshops, training sessions or office hours, and invite them to see the value in bringing you into discussions at an early stage.
#3 Hiring and outsourcing
Once you have agreed on your priorities with your client, you may need to have discussions with your primary client contact about resources and budgets. It isn’t always about bringing on (more) lawyers; many jobs might be better achieved by non-legally qualified team members, such as paralegals, equity administrators, or contracts managers, who can all be managed and supervised by the Fractional GC.
“In a fast-growing company, you may need a hiring plan that is several months ahead of where you are currently. The folks you hire should be experienced enough to deal with that future reality, rather than the current state. Of course, macroeconomic factors can change all of that because if you hire too far ahead, you will end up with too much seniority and not enough to keep them busy.”
Routine legal work can be outsourced to a flexible, low-cost, legal provider. Some tasks will require specialist external counsel, for example, to advise on stock options, overseas expansion or trade sanctions. A Fractional GC is an informed buyer of legal services. You have the ability to assess the legal market and buy in quality services with an understanding of how much they should cost.
“Help your client plan their legal strategy, whether that is more team members, leveraging external suppliers, or bringing in specialist advice.”
In the end, you might recommend that it’s time for them to hire their first in-house GC, and you can help them to achieve that, now that you have a unique perspective on their legal needs.
Also read: 5 Questions Businesses Must Ask Before Hiring their First In-house Counsel
#4 Legal Ops Consultancy
Building legal ops processes is an important value-add as a Fractional GC because it shows that you’re not just selling your legal advice like any other external lawyer; you’re a consultant who understands how to scale a legal function.
“You can't keep adding the same proportion of legal people to take care of inexpensive processes like building word documents, spreadsheets, etc. You can't scale and keep adding costs.”
As an in-house GC, Stephanie has had extensive experience in implementing processes, including simple self-service workflows to allow the business to be self-sufficient. By introducing templates, playbooks, and training, you can cut down the legal reviews on everything but the highest value contracts. As time goes on, look at where you can automate repeatable processes and eliminate or reduce “legal waste”.
Creating standardized processes for legal tasks can help to streamline your legal function and ensure consistency across the organization. This may involve creating templates for contracts, checklists for due diligence, and guidelines for engaging with legal.
Automating routine legal tasks, such as document review and contract management, can help you free up time to focus on higher-level legal work. This can be achieved through legal technology, such as document management software and contract lifecycle management tools.
How to Structure Engagements as a Fractional GC
When it comes to structuring engagements as a Fractional GC, Stephanie recommends finding a solution that works best for the client, whether that is offering monthly retainers, fixed-term project work, or bundles of pre-paid hours.
“My preferred way of working as a Fractional GC is to offer my services through a fixed monthly retainer. For example, a client can buy 10 hours a month, which we track together to ensure the work matches the retainer over time. Remember that you’re not simply charging for your time, you’re charging for the value you will bring to the table.”
Communication is key to the success of any engagement, so it's important to establish a clear communication plan with your client. This may involve regular check-ins, progress reports, and updates on developments that may impact the engagement.
In conclusion, the rise of Fractional GCs is a response to the changing legal landscape. Founders and business leaders in small companies don’t want to spend their time dealing with legal issues, but can’t always justify a full-time GC. Fractional GCs offer a solution. By embedding into business functions, managing relationships, and acting as an informed buyer of legal services, Fractional GCs can provide high value to small companies on a part-time or project basis.
Seven Legal is a dynamic legal consultancy that offers tailored and commercially-driven legal counsel to start-ups and small-to-medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).