When Michael Brizel worked as the general counsel for luxury retailer Saks Inc. from 2007 to 2013, sales were declining and store closures became increasingly common. Morale within the legal department sank at times, especially for Saks' in-house real estate lawyer during the Great Recession when the company underwent rounds of store closures.
"It got to the point where all she was doing everyday was calling mall owners and developers to negotiate getting out of our leases," Brizel recalled. "It was a really stressful and emotionally difficult time."
Retailers' struggles continue to this day. As the list of store closures continues to add up, so do the challenges for in-house lawyers across the industry. Between bankruptcies and consolidation, there are fewer jobs for traditional retail lawyers and more attorneys are looking to get out, if they haven't already.
As Pete Boerner, managing director with legal recruiting consultancy Major, Lindsey & Africa, put it, more retail lawyers will be forced to explore other opportunities.
Though he hasn't personally witnessed "an exodus of legal talent from retail," his group is having more conversations with lawyers in this space about "their desire to transition to other industries." Consumer goods, as an example, could be a good option for some, he said.