Threading the Needle: How Law Firms and Lawyers Can Both Win in an Ever-Changing Legal Market


Law firm leaders must stay one step ahead of the ever-evolving economy and employment landscape to remain culturally and fiscally healthy, specifically as it relates to attracting and retaining top talent. During some economic cycles, law firm lateral hiring is relatively seamless. However, the market can quickly shift and hiring then becomes a difficult challenge. This may impact a firm’s profitability. While hiring to enhance profitability can feel like a constant game of “threading the needle,” law firms can win in the game of profitability, while lawyers can also experience career enhancement when firms engage interim legal talent.

For all businesses, employment and payroll costs are huge fixed overhead expenditures. From salaries to bonuses and healthcare cost implications, as well as carrying staff for “when the market spikes,” many law firms have tied themselves to profit-eating headcount. What innovative law firms are finding though, is that by engaging interim legal talent for matter and deal-specific workload, they can control payroll costs and improve profits-per-partner and revenue-per-lawyer by expanding and contracting their ranks. Engaging a team of attorney consultants for M&A due diligence or contracting with a former AmLaw partner with specialties in privacy, healthcare, SaaS agreements or banking can afford a law firm the ability to ramp up practice area bandwidth in days while also not increasing firm headcount.

Law firms may wonder though, “Why would a lawyer of such expertise choose to work on an interim basis?” The concept historically has been stereotyped as being solely used for low-level work or for recent law grads. Times have changed, however. The matters consulting attorneys are taking on has evolved (as evidenced below) and so has the caliber and expertise of the attorney performing the work. Interim legal work is of strong interest to many highly qualified, pedigreed and experienced lawyers. An attorney may choose to work at law firms on an interim basis for a variety of personal and professional reasons and can be especially beneficial to their career in a challenging legal market.

One might take on an interim role because they are supplementing their time and income while considering their next permanent opportunity. Often, a vast number of these interim positions end up turning into a permanent opportunity—even an on-track associate role. If the opportunity does not become a full-time role, the consulting assignment helps the interim attorney build contacts throughout the firm that they can then use as a vehicle for networking to find a subsequent position.

Another reason an attorney will seek law firm interim work is so they can augment or retool their skill set, enhance their resume or experience different working cultures. For example, attorneys can apply their expertise in new ways to enhance their career progression and perform sophisticated work for new, high-level clients. These roles may give them an avenue into an AmLaw or high-caliber firm that they previously did not have access to, especially if the role is remote and introduces them to a new geography. For those looking to move into a different role or practice area, interim roles can be a vehicle for making that transition.

In some cases, these consulting attorneys are simply seeking a different way of working. They enjoy the practice of law but like the flexibility that comes with working assignment to assignment. They may be ready for retirement from a full-time role but not ready to step out of practice or they have familial obligations that require their attention to a level that does not align with the billable hour model. Interim assignments give them options they may not have had in traditional practice.

In this ever-changing economic climate, law firms can create win-win outcomes for the firm, their staff and for consulting attorneys. When law firms do the hard work of threading the needle in connection with hiring and consider using interim attorneys at the firm, the firm can enhance its profitability. When attorneys consider interim projects, they can work with many terrific law firms, gain valuable experience and enhance their careers.

Law firm hiring to enhance profitability can take on many shapes and sizes. Here are some real-world examples:

  • An AmLaw 50 Client was struggling to hire, address firm bandwidth and morale concerns, and keep up with the pace of client requests. By hiring 11 different consulting attorneys with varying skill sets across the firm, the firm was able to address its concerns and enhance its profitability. The firm hired in Capital Markets, Corporate, M&A, Tech Transactions, Commercial Real Estate and Intellectual Property.
  • After one AmLaw 100 firm brought in a new venture capital partner with a robust client roster, he needed to grow his associate/senior associate team quickly so that he could meet the demanding needs for his venture capital clients and sustain his profitable client. While the firm searched for full-time hires, they were able to bring in a skilled venture capital consulting attorney who could be onboarded and start on matters almost immediately.
  • Several mid-size firms were struggling to recruit and hire mid-level M&A attorneys. In the tight candidate market, the firms explored and benefited from using a temp-to-permanent model, bringing in skilled consulting M&A attorneys who could manage the workload and potentially convert to full-time, permanent employees. This temp-to-permanent model allowed the firms to keep the work from going to another firm and thereby enhance the firm’s profitability and revenue.
  • Another AmLaw 100 firm had a banking client that was seeking to renegotiate bank branch and bank ATM leases. They needed several skilled leasing attorneys in several regional locations to assist with getting the leases renegotiated in a timely and cost-effective manner, which was easily accomplished through working with consulting lawyers. By using cost effective interim attorneys, the client demonstrated its willingness to work with its client and was able to keep more of the client’s legal matters from going to other firms.
  • A different AmLaw 100 firm was interviewing to add a corporate partner to its ranks and needed an interim partner-level attorney to manage a long-standing corporate client as they worked through the partner recruitment process. In the interim, an experienced partner-level attorney joined the firm on a short-term basis to keep the client relationship moving forward. By hiring an interim partner-level candidate, the firm was able to sustain a valuable client relationship which will continue to grow.


There is currently no related content for this person
No More Results