Doing More with Less: A Roadmap for Making Hiring Decisions

In-house legal departments have been faced with tightened budgets and headcount restrictions for years now. In the wake of COVID-19, however, the challenges have compounded and, in many cases, become more extreme with even deeper reductions in workforce and greater increases in workload. The added stress created by this scenario has left legal leadership looking for solutions that will make everyone—from management to their legal support staff—happy.

Before you can begin looking for solutions, however, you need to have an understanding of the current state of your team and the resources available to you—and the restrictions affecting your team and organization. Consider these factors:

  • Level of expertise and/or industry knowledge required: In which areas do you need the most help? Where is the workload the heaviest? Look at the composition of your existing team and compare it to the mix of matters that are coming in. You may discover that you have specific areas where you could use additional support, such as M&A or employment. But on the other hand, you might have a mix of work that could use the support of a generalist experienced in a variety of legal work. The expertise of the support you need will help determine how to approach.
  • Duration of increased workload: What is the duration of the increased workload? Is this increased workload expected to continue for future years? Or is this increased work expected to be for the short term only? Do you require a short-term niche skill set for a project or loss of resource due to a leave? Is there a chance the increased workload will ebb and flow over a period of time, which will require you to scale up and down? Consider how long you think this increase in workload will last and what amount of help you will need now and in the future. This will help you decide if a long-term hire is necessary or if you may be able to rely on contract professionals.
  • Urgency of need: Do you need to identify and onboard qualified talent quickly to address an immediate shortage? Or can your existing team continue at their current pace for weeks or potentially months? Figuring out if you need someone who can hit the ground running tomorrow versus if you have the time to fully train and onboard someone will impact how you move forward with your search.
  • Budget: What’s your allotted budget? Will hiring someone as a full-time permanent employee impact other parts of the department with regard to budget and decisions? Will you likely see further budget cuts in the coming months or does the future still remain a mystery? Having a sense of how much you can spend will be key to moving forward.

With an understanding of where you need support and how flexible you can be with your approach, you can then consider a number of options—from using outside counsel to hiring talent—to address your workload and headcount challenges.

Use Outside Counsel

An obvious place to start is to turn to your trusted law firm. This option can be the safe—and quickest—choice. You would have access to a team of subject-matter experts who are well versed in a variety of matters and have some degree of familiarity with your organization and its needs. It’s likely their lawyers would need minimal daily oversight, but someone in-house would need to manage the workload process, budget, costs and relationship closely. This can become the costliest option depending on how much work is being given to outside counsel and the firm’s billable hourly rate.

Make a Full-Time Permanent Hire

If your workload is so great you need a full-time person to round out your team, then making a permanent hire may be the right action to take. A full-time hire would require a fixed, budgeted cost that the department can plan for and it also means a dedicated resource of staff of your choosing. By hiring, you would be transferring all internal knowledge to someone who would ultimately become invested in the organization and its goals, which may not be the case with outside counsel. Daily oversight would initially be high but wane off as the new attorney became acclimated.

To bring in a permanent hire, you would have two options on how to approach finding the right lawyer for your team. You could only work with your internal Human Resources team or partner with a legal recruiting firm. It is likely that leaving the search to your Human Resources team will take longer and generate a talent pool that ranges from a so-so fit to a potential frontrunner. By partnering with a legal recruiting firm, you would have immediate access to a national network of qualified individuals across multiple industries and varying levels of legal acumen.

Explore Flexible Options with Interim Talent

If your budget and timeline for need is less clear, you may want to consider bringing in a contract attorney to support your team while waiting for a more certain future. Interim legal talent provides flexibility and access to legal professionals when you need them. This is likely a lower cost option tailored to your budget for needs that have a quick turnaround time. By working with a recruiting firm specializing in interim talent, they will be able to identify professionals with subject-matter expertise who are experienced at working on flexible assignments.

Multiple options are available to legal departments to address the challenges they face in the current economic climate. By taking a closer look at the current state of your organization and your legal team needs, you can find a solution that will bring more efficiency to your team and lower the stress level.

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