The Challenge of Talent Retention: Non-Monetary Perks


In-house legal teams are an indispensable resource to a business, especially in heavily IP-driven sectors such as life sciences and pharmaceuticals. The current economic choppy waters mean having talented legal brains in the boardroom to tackle a range of business-critical decisions is more important than ever. However, against this challenging backdrop, how can pharma companies compete with the pay wars being waged by law firms to lure talented lawyers in-house?

At the top of the pyramid, law firm associates (a traditional hunting ground for in-house legal departments) are currently extremely wary about transitioning in house, as law firms offer pay rises, COVID and other retention bonuses and other non-monetary inducements to keep them within their firms.

This means that the normal trickle-down effect of associates from law firms to in-house is severely restricted with corresponding pressure on in-house legal departments to retain existing talent given the increased difficulty of replacing them. So, when competing against law firms to recruit and retain their in-house lawyers, pharma companies must get creative with non-monetary perks.

General Counsels (GCs) are not immune from the budgetary pressures impacting other corporate functions and need to differentiate their offering from law firm competitors by devoting at least 20% of their pie chart to the proper care and feeding of their team. This may look like a disproportionately large piece of their available bandwidth until one looks at the consequences of inattention to staff wants and needs.

So how can GCs in the pharma sector develop creative, non-monetary solutions to talent retention? The answer is by investing their time in talent development and staff well-being.
Soundings from several successful legal departments in this sector who have enjoyed lengthy continuity of service from their mid-level and senior lawyers have focused on the following five areas:

Career Pathing & Development

As candidates and existing staff consider the merits of joining or staying in-house within life sciences, they expect transparency on what the next 2-3 years will look like for them, subject to favourable performance reviews. The onus is squarely on their managers to devise job ladders within their legal department and accompanying qualitative metrics on what is expected of lawyers to get to the next level. Faced with lack of clarity, talent will head for the exit. Career pathing and development should not be limited to the top 10% but extend throughout the department.

Ensuring a Varied and Challenging Mix of Work & Training Curriculum

It is tempting to keep individual lawyers on a steady diet of known and competently delivered assignments which ensure specifical stability and stakeholder satisfaction. But this will only last for so long. Ambitious talent will constantly seek to develop new skills and build on their existing experience. Law firms are able to offer this by exposing lawyers to a variety of clients.

GCs and senior managers must therefore build in and invest for change to incentivise. This calls for new approaches to work allocation, so that talent is able to tackle a range of challenges and initiatives within the business and receive varied training and mentoring to broaden staff skill sets and ultimately build a more versatile department. The role of the in-house lawyer has evolved beyond just legal issues, and lawyers will feel a greater sense of work satisfaction if they are involved in driving the business forward.

One successful example within the pharma sector calls for creating deputy point of contacts for geographic markets, products or subject matter expertise across areas such as regulatory, privacy, compliance – all of which are crucial to a pharma company’s operations. Another is based on investment in external training courses on issues that are central to the business, such as finance, digital, and IT.

Recognising and Celebrating Success

All too often, talented employees are so caught up in the achievement ethic that they forget to stop, pause, and celebrate a job well done and its positive impact on the business. The simple yet pointed act of recognising individuals for outstanding achievements is worth its weight in high morale and a positive, highly collegial working environment. And the ask from employers is comparatively minimal.

Allowing for Work-Life Balance: Hybrid Working, Flexible Hours

The first question asked by candidates is a prospective employer’s flexibility on office working versus hybrid working and flexible hours. COVID has changed the equation. Although many employers in the life sciences sector are keen to get staff back in the office, allowing employees the freedom to work from home or remotely will demonstrate concern for employee welfare which will promote his/her dedication to the role. Certain companies have even allowed flex time over a 40-hour week.

From a search perspective, the hiring company can cast its net far more widely and attract a deeper candidate pool. Life sciences, as a truly global industry with a number of key hubs across Europe, is especially well placed to capitalise on flexible and remote working benefits. For instance, we are seeing increasing examples of remote working within France, Germany, Switzerland and the U.K.

Corporate Commitment to CSR Goals

Many Generation-Z lawyers we canvassed for positions in the life sciences sector expressed an interest in their employer’s commitment to corporate social responsibility in general and encouragement of legal pro bono work in particular. Corporate legal departments are increasingly devoting time to charitable legal causes for under-presented clients which match overall corporate D&I initiatives. Gen-Z lawyers will ask if this is subject to periodic review and reporting to show that corporate employers are ‘walking the talk’. In particular, ESG is a huge opportunity for lawyers to diversify and gain significant commercial exposure.

Mental Health & Wellness Programs

We also know of several examples of GCs in the pharma industry running wellness initiatives for their teams. This involves bringing in external support and speakers to support on wellness and investing in robust mental health. The issue of ‘burn out’ must be acknowledged, faced head-on, and destigmatised.

When facing economic headwinds, having a well-resourced and engaged in-house legal department will prove essential for life sciences and pharmaceutical companies to thrive. Overall, leveraging non-monetary perks to ensure top legal talent feel valued, challenged, and inspired should be central to the business’ recruitment and retention strategy. Businesses that fail to prioritise this risk losing their top legal minds to the private practice legal sector.


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