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In-House & Interim Hiring Outlook

With the economy holding steady and the national unemployment rate at a record low, the legal space has seen a shift to a candidate-driven market, where organizations and law firms have to work harder, and more creatively, to win and retain talent. In fact, competition for top talent is at an all-time high.

The In-House Talent Market

Attracting and retaining top legal talent is a constant concern for legal employers. In today’s market, candidates have options, multiple offers and therefore, bargaining power, and we are consistently seeing organizations offer new incentives: flexible work schedules, remote work options, gyms on site, free snacks/lunches, free parking, etc. And while we are seeing in-house legal departments investing in recruiting and retaining talent to grow their in-house capabilities, we are also seeing law firms become more aggressive and creative in their efforts to keep associates happy. This, in turn, affects the pool of available candidates on the in-house side.  

However, law departments are consistently recognizing the need for change and becoming increasingly more sophisticated as a result. They continue to prioritize and explore new ways to leverage internal resources and technology in order to drive innovation in legal service delivery and reduce outside legal spend. The corporate legal department is being seen more and more as a business partner. As the regulatory and compliance areas have increased in complexity and the threat of costly litigation continues to impact legal departments, legal risk has migrated from being a fairly contained topic to one which is involved in nearly every aspect of the business. Ultimately, the business demands more than pure legal advice from its counsel. The result of this is that nearly every business decision, for many corporations, is also a legal department decision.

The Growth of – and Demand for – Interim Talent

As the need for and availability of talent continues to change, the forms in which top talent presents itself also adapts. Historically speaking, concepts such as transformation or evolution in terms of process and procedure were not typically associated with the legal world, particularly with law firms. However, since 2008, the ever increasing need to keep costs down, including how teams are staffed and utilized, has forced a revolution. This revolution, if you will, was the precipice for the Interim Legal Talent group here at Major, Lindsey & Africa.

As the name suggests, the Interim Legal team is primarily responsible for handling all interim/contract attorney needs (as well as other legal professionals) for both corporate legal departments and law firms. When the team was first launched in 2010, most of our time was spent explaining the services we provided and how they could help solve a host of budgetary and hiring dilemmas – concerns that were highlighted as a result of the recession. While that is certainly still a part of our process, given the way in which the market has evolved, our time is now mostly spent discussing why we do what we do better than anyone else. In other words, the term “contract attorney” is no longer synonymous with document review and the objections regarding candidate quality for interim hires have all but vanished. The pool of people interested in working in an interim capacity has also significantly increased. These changes, and the need for interim support, have occurred despite the fact that the more recent economy has flourished.  

Corporate and law firm clients utilize interim resources for myriad reasons. When Interim Legal first began, our primary goal was helping potential clients to see how they could benefit from alternative hiring solutions. However, in today’s market, we are learning the ways in which contract attorneys are employed from clients!

Some of the most common examples include the following:

  1. Capacity/Peaks – There is an abundance of work leading to stretched resources and increased errors; however, the work is not expected to last long term making a permanent hire unnecessary.
  2. Projects – For example, contractors are used when there is significant ongoing litigation, when there is a need to develop new policies and procedures, when certain agreements need to be reviewed and potentially altered, etc.
  3. Due Diligence – We are consistently asked to provide candidates for due diligence work related to M&A activity and post-integration matters.
  4. Decrease Outside Counsel Fees/Usage – Most general counsel operate with a lean team and an even slimmer budget. Thus, they will hire contract attorneys to help alleviate some of these costs as the quality of our attorneys is unmatched in this space—with a significantly lower price point.
  5. Ability to Offer Lower Rates – Law firms are facing constant pressure to reduce rates and/or develop alternative fee plans. As a result, they bring on an interim resource to handle some of the lower level work, and the rates they pass through to clients are less than what they would need to charge for a standard associate.  
  6. Temporary to Permanent – Companies need to make a hire but want to ensure that the person is the right fit, so they bring him or her on as a contractor and will convert to permanent employment, if appropriate. Or, they are unsure whether the budget will allow for a permanent hire, so they bring someone in on a temporary capacity and convert if it can work financially. This model is also used when a department is in desperate need of help and the permanent hiring process is too time consuming. Thus, they bring on a contractor while continuing the permanent search.
  7. Medical Leave.
  8. Defining a Role – Oftentimes, a team is not entirely sure what skills are most important in a candidate. Thus, they bring someone on in an interim capacity to help clearly define the position.
  9. Niche Skill Set – Not all practice groups/legal teams have attorneys with all necessary skill sets. Thus, they will bring on a contractor to help provide support when necessary (several of these placements have become indefinite with the contractor acting as an as-needed consultant).

The coming recession will, no doubt, bring with it more change. This could mean lawyer job losses and less partner promotions at law firms, an increase in corporate work kept in-house, and/or a renewed focus on budgets and hourly rates. However, as highlighted above, whether the economy stagnates or thrives, the need for interim resources and the benefits legal teams experience as a result of their utilization will remain as constant as the change that first necessitated them.

This article was originally published in the ACC NCR Newsletter.

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