Winning Top Candidates for Your In-House Legal Team

In our current robust economic environment, the competition for premium talent is increasingly competitive. This is especially true for in-house, as in-house counsel are expected to be effective managers and adroit balancers of legal risk and business opportunity. Reflecting this demand for talent, the pay scale at the country’s top law firms is higher than ever, with associates earning pay packages approaching $300,000 or more annually. Moreover, top law firms are increasingly finding ways to retain this talent apart from offering partnerships; such as through flex time arrangements and non-partnership track positions that provide professional challenge and better work-life balance.  Consequently, candidates have become more and more selective when preparing to make their next job move, especially those first time in-house job seekers looking for that “perfect” in-house role. While companies strive to attract and retain top legal talent, a number of them haven’t quite yet come to terms with the candidate’s changing circumstances and expectations.

For a Company to bridge the gap and attract topnotch attorneys away from the comfort of their law firm or present in-house role, consider taking the following actions:

Consider Career Paths and Be Transparent

Most candidates don’t want to jump to an in-house role within a flat organization where there is very little opportunity for promotions in title, responsibility or increases in compensation. And while many associates do not necessarily wish to become a law firm partner, they are often promoted to senior associate or counsel. With fewer firms taking the “up or out” approach seen with the traditional partnership track in years past, there isn’t quite the scare factor there used to be for associates to identify other career options which means that more lawyers are choosing to remain at the firm rather than move to an in-house role.

Companies need to operate with transparency when describing the role to candidates--what it is and what it’s not--especially when promotion within the organization is limited. It could be that your role suits someone who wants to get their in-house career off the ground and isn’t as concerned with promotion at this stage in their career. The more transparent you are the better luck you will have finding the right lawyer who will not only succeed in the role but achieve longevity with your company.

Act Quickly

Every organization wants candidates who possess top-tier law firm experience and top law school credentials, making the candidate pool much smaller—especially when those same sought-after candidates are receiving a barrage of calls on a number of other in-house opportunities (or seeking them out through application or their own networking). There is a high demand and limited supply creating the candidate’s requirement that they only move for something that seems “perfect” (i.e., the opportunity that doesn’t involve a commute or a huge pay cut and allows for growth, promotion, etc.). It’s therefore important for you to act quickly and set your organization apart from other in-house opportunities.

In addition to offering a fair compensation package, flexibility with remote working, potential upward mobility and other benefits that might come along with the role in the short and long term, it’s imperative to move the interview process along quickly and efficiently. Don’t let too much time pass between first being presented with the candidate’s resume and organizing the first round (and subsequent) interviews. It’s not only important to keep the timeline tight, but to also make each interview cycle meaningful by arranging the candidate to meet several key interviewers at a time. Just like you, the candidate’s time is also valuable and limited. And more importantly, they are being recruited by other companies and likely have multiple opportunities in process in addition to yours. Make your organization stand out by being the one that is accommodating and responsive. In doing so, you will avoid losing good candidates and having to start from scratch.

Properly Benchmark Your Compensation

In particular, law firm associates are less inclined to take a significant pay cut to transition to an in-house role that they might have been open to just two or three years ago. While BigLaw base compensation continues to climb and senior associates’ year-end bonuses have also grown—along with the addition of summertime “thank you” bonuses—some in-house compensation packages haven’t increased in parity with the New York market. The result is fewer law firm associates are jumping at the chance to move in-house if it means taking a significant pay cut.

To attract and retain top legal talent, it’s a good idea to review your current starting compensation packages and potentially restructure them to align more with the current market. If you are not able to increase your compensation range, other benefits or perks might be considered such as:

  • Working remotely a day or two a week
  • Working closely with senior leadership
  • Access to leadership opportunities and expansion of practice areas and skill sets
  • Be Flexible on the Commute

With a litany of options at their fingertips, City-based lawyers are less willing to take on a commute out to the New Jersey or the Connecticut suburbs, even for an in-house opportunity that can offer upward mobility and growing compensation over time. A commute will naturally add on significantly more time to the workday and can be especially concerning for parents of small children or others who have caretaking responsibilities at home. It’s also less convenient when wanting to meet up with friends or business associates after work, getting in that workout or grabbing a quick cab home after a long work day turned late night—all things that are important to those who have purposefully chosen to live in the City.

To overcome these concerns, offer candidates the option to work from home or a satellite office located in the City one or two days a week. This can be done once they’ve established themselves at the company and engendered confidence and will go a long way toward longevity. These small accommodations can increase the number and quality of candidates interested in your open position and company.

Understand and Sell Your Culture

Not only is there better compensation at law firms, but firms seem to be making strides toward improving their culture and work/life balance (paternity leave, working remotely, etc.), whereas associates have heard that in-house jobs, especially in financial services, are not necessarily a better work/life balance than at the firm. In-house life is often a barrage of internal clients with competing needs and demands. This work environment can be more frenetic and stressful often stretching beyond one’s practice area which might not be as appealing to some associates. Many associates who find themselves in a law firm with an improved culture and increased compensation are happy to stay where they have defined and more narrow responsibilities in their role.

Make sure the culture at your company is as good as or better than what the associates are experiencing at firms – perks, vacations, flexibility, benefits, etc., along with hiring the right personality for your team – someone who is able to roll up their sleeves and adapt to changes in work flow.

The days of having your pick of the litter are gone. In order to attract and retain top legal talent in today’s candidate-driven market, it’s critical that companies take action relative to current market drivers and trends. They must think outside of the box to build and maintain a world class legal team in today’s New York in-house market.


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