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: