Entrepreneur Dawn Ely Develops a Unique Business Model to Help Growing Companies with Legal and Business Issues

Sat, 2009-04-25

Dawn Ely is changing the way growing businesses receive and use legal expertise and services. After working with companies as an in-house attorney for almost two decades, Ms. Ely has created a unique business model in the legal profession that allows small and medium-sized companies to benefit from the expertise of a part-time, in-house legal counselor rather than hiring a full-time General Counsel employee.

Palladium Chief Legal Officers (CLOs) offers experienced divisional and general counsel in-house CLOs at budgetable, flat rate fees. Companies gain the assistance of a dedicated part-time lawyer without the costs of employee benefits. Companies utilizing a Palladium CLO know upfront what fees will be billed. The CLO designated to the client can be obtained for any number of days per week as needed. Palladium CLOs work at the client’s office – just like an employee - participating in all company matters, from legal counsel and strategic planning to business advisory consultation. The Palladium CLO is the company’s Chief Legal Officer, and functions as a part of the company’s executive team.

The Palladium CLO model developed as a result of Ely’s long-time experience as in-house counsel in the healthcare and technology sectors –in small, large, public, domestic and international companies. It was in these organizations that she realized companies of every size are not only potential victims of the litigious business arena, but need strategic and preventive business-legal counseling, whether they had experienced a problem or not. While big corporations routinely have in-house counsel to manage these challenges, smaller companies either cannot afford to hire a six-figure full-time employee or don’t have enough work to justify a full-time hire. Ely also came to realize that the ability to translate between legal and business issues can help a company make proactive business decisions to better accomplish business objectives, not just prevent the legal problems. Interestingly, throughout her career, Dawn also became aware of the negative perceptions of attorneys held by some CEOs and other executives, and decided it was time to change the dynamic.

“I have always wanted to have my own business,” Ely said. “I saw a huge gap in the marketplace between the needs of a company, the role of the lawyers and the businesses’ ability to hire an in-house employee. It was a need I knew I could fill because I have a passion for business and the legal expertise to know how that knowledge can help a company,” she noted. “Companies should be embracing the advice of lawyers and in return attorneys should be providing a way for a business to achieve its objectives. The thinking in most companies is that the lawyer either stands in the way or can do nothing other than say “No” without providing alternatives and solutions. I don’t believe it has to be that way.”

While Ms. Ely understands the beneficial role an in-house legal consultant can play in a company, she is also aware of the tight budget that hinders many organizations from hiring a full-time legal employee. Partly inspired by the outsourcing options for part-time Chief Financial Officers in the financial industry, Ely started forming the ideas for what would become Palladium CLOs.

Dawn moved from South Carolina to Atlanta in April 2005 after learning the city was ranked 5th in the country for small- to size and emerging health care companies. She started Palladium without business connections or clients. After only a few months, she won a contract and has continued to attract companies to her unique enterprise. Today, with her reputation and her network growing, Dawn is aggressively pursuing opportunities in Atlanta, the Northeast, Texas, California and other locations in the US. She has even taken on engaging law firms into her vision. The roles of in-house counsel and the external law firm and the necessary partnership between the two roles are a key theme in Ms. Ely’s seminars and continuing education courses. She views both as critical to a company’s success, not unlike the role the CFO and the CPA firm, plays in most businesses.

“Small and mid-market companies should have the best legal and business advice available, just like the large corporations,” said Ely. “All companies face the same legal challenges. It takes both the day-to-day attention of the in-house attorney and the expertise of an outside law firm to ensure the company is proactively getting opportunities and preventing costly situations. Since the legal issues and business issues are interconnected, it makes sense they should be managed as interdependent and not as separate silos.”

Indeed, Ely combines her expert skills in business and law to create an integrated service. Yet, she adds another dimension — partnership.

“Regulation, licensing, quality standards…these are time-consuming procedures. Only by being an on-going part of the company’s management team, sitting at meetings and participating in hallway discussions can the legal counsel really see how the company operates, understand the business objectives and see how legal issues are intertwined with the business operations more efficiently and effectively,” Ely explained.

Ely believes in a hands-on, ongoing partnership with a business to excel performance. “That way,” she explained, “we don’t only solve liabilities, but we also create possibilities.”

About Palladium Chief Legal Officers (CLOs)

Palladium CLOs offer small- and mid-size companies highly experienced, in-house general counsel, on a part-time basis at budgetable, flat rate fees. Companies gain the benefit of a dedicated part-time lawyer, on the executive team, without the high costs of a full time employee. Palladium CLOs work at the client’s office – just like an employee - participating in all company matters, from legal counsel and strategic planning to business advisory consultation. More than just attorneys, Palladium CLOs are business leaders who act proactively and decisively on legal challenges. By working in-house, companies get direct access to answers for legal questions before they become legal problems. CLOs can be contracted for any number of days per week.