Hiring in-house has higher stakes than law firm recruitment. While firms employ hordes of associates, some of whom are bound to depart before making partner, law departments continue to fight the perception that they’re bloated cost centers. And maintaining a lean team means that every person has to pull their weight.
Hiring is one of the most important things an in-house leader can do for a law department, says Michael Sachs, a legal recruiting partner at Major, Lindsey & Africa LLC and a former in-house counsel for NBCUniversal.
"A bad apple or a good apple has a dramatic influence upon that group, and it can't be overstated," Sachs said. "Time and time again, we hear from our clients that when a bad hire is made, it put a pall over the group and held them back from being able to produce for six months to a year"
Effective Communication Skills
At law firms, Sachs says, much of a lawyer's value is determined by output — the brief that's written or the deal that's made. Corporate lawyers, on the other hand, are judged based on more, including the way they handle a meeting with the CEO or chief financial officer, or how they counsel senior business officers.
"It's not just about the wisdom in-house counsel is giving them, because a lot of the time that wisdom is something that many people can deliver and it may be something that came directly from the law firm," Sachs said. "It's the way you interact. And because you'll be dealing with a lot of nonlawyers, it's important that they feel comfortable and confident in your abilities."
Nonlawyers may be unable to judge an in-house counsel on whether advice was right or wrong, Sachs notes, but will judge counsel over the long-haul based on how they felt about advice or were helped through thorny problems.