Hiring for the Legal Department

What is different about hiring for my legal department vs. other functions?

Many hiring executives agree that hiring for the legal function may not be a core competency of most corporate HR teams. While a software company may know where to find and how to evaluate all of the top and qualified programmers, or a technology company may know about the best and the brightest engineers who fit its company culture – knowing where the best lawyers are with the right skill set and right cultural fit is not usually the bailiwick of the HR/recruiting team. In most companies, this team is focused on maintaining a constant awareness of the availability of top talent for core company roles and industry-standard functions in the marketplace. Unfortunately, the one area where this focus and expertise might be lacking is in hiring for the legal department.

Hiring in-house counsel – how different is it?

While it shares some elements with hiring for other functions, hiring in-house counsel does present unique challenges to a corporate HR department.

You will find the most similarity between the legal function and other roles at the executive level. As with most executives, the General Counsel (GC) or Chief Legal Officer (CLO) must be a strategic, big-picture thinker, with the ability to manage people and priorities, set goals and focus the organization towards those goals. Any hiring effort at this level can be one of the most complex and challenging responsibilities any company can undertake because of the many varied roles that these executives must fulfill. In the case of the GC, he or she is called upon to lead and steward the legal and ethical standards of an entire company as well as provide bulletproof legal counsel to senior staff members and the board. The GC also has the duty of overseeing the activities of the in-house legal department. Perhaps most important, he or she is charged with managing and balancing an organization's corporate risk – protecting it from legal missteps without impeding its progress toward strategic goals and objectives.

For lower level in-house counsel roles, there is a greater need for detailed focus and expertise in specific subject areas. An in-depth understanding of and experience in a particular practice or regulatory area are always helpful. These individuals must also have the ability to understand department and company goals and manage work with those goals in mind.

Hiring the right lawyers for these legal functions is ultimately about knowing the legal industry, and knowing the right lawyers.

A lot of people think that they know what lawyers do and some have a pretty good idea, but complete appreciation of the role of a lawyer comes from understanding and having experienced the particulars of the profession - from the nuances of a legal education and the experience of a junior associate to what makes a partner at a firm rise to that level or whether an M&A lawyer or a litigator would make the best GC.

Generalizations about the types of lawyers who become litigators, corporate securities lawyers and intellectual property lawyers, for example, abound, however, a litigator may prove to be a calculated risk taker or an opinionated individualist. A corporate securities lawyer might be a "get-it-done" deal maker or a detail-oriented contract drafter. An intellectual property attorney might be an "introverted inventor" type or a big-picture technology leader. Regardless of practice stereotypes, any individual lawyer can fall anywhere along a personality and style spectrum, and therefore may or may not work in a particular position or in a specific company.

In order to move beyond generalizations about a lawyer based upon his or her resume and hire the lawyer who has the potential to shine in your organization, you need to know lawyers and understand their individual expertise and motivations.

Who Really Understands Lawyers?

A complete understanding of a lawyer's expertise and motivations is not easy to get from a resume or even an interview, particularly because many attorneys are skilled drafters and orators. Having as your hiring partner someone who regularly guides lawyers as they move through their careers from associates to partners or in-house counsel can help you better understand these motivations and behaviors. Having access to recruiters who have worked with specific lawyers as colleagues, candidates and clients over a number of years provides a foundation for gaining a better understanding of the individual lawyer and whether he or she is right for your company. While hiring lawyers may not be that different, hiring the right lawyer is about having a long term competency in building relationships with lawyers and knowing more about them than a resume would reveal.

At Major, Lindsey & Africa, we understand that identifying the best person for in-house legal positions requires a search process of the first order – and a search firm with unmatched experience, insight and resources. It also requires specific legal and corporate counsel hiring expertise that is rarely found within a company's own ranks; or even among recruiters of the most prestigious executive search firms, who do not focus exclusively on the legal marketplace.

Founded and staffed by many search consultants who are former in-house lawyers and GCs, MLA has a rare understanding of what it takes to meet this serious challenge – and exciting opportunity. Our proprietary knowledge system, marketplace intelligence and unique depth of experience have taught us how to look beyond an impressive CV to identify an outstanding attorney who will make a significant contribution to a specific company's long-term success.

We are committed to working with our client companies in every way we can. For example, MLA collaborates closely with human resources staff, executives and General Counsel to carefully craft position descriptions that are clearly defined yet open enough to allow for a pool of qualified candidates. Our HR partners find particularly helpful our capacity to conduct searches locally, nationally and globally and our grasp of competitive compensation and benefits worldwide. We are equally well-versed in the specific needs of a wide range of industries – financial services, manufacturing, technology, entertainment and energy, to name a few. It all adds up to a unique ability to target exceptional legal talent compatible with your company's corporate culture and business goals.

Of course, we couldn't create such successful placements if the matches weren't equally satisfying for our candidates. MLA's in-house consultants often mentor attorneys throughout their career. We carefully guide corporate counsel candidates through the critical variables concerning the interview process, compensation by market, expatriate packages, salary negotiation, relocation and insight into the employer's company culture and business objectives.

It's what makes Major, Lindsey & Africa not just an intermediary but a true partner and consultant to General Counsel, Corporate Counsel, HR Professionals and candidates alike.


Andrea BriccaAndrea Bricca is a Partner for Major, Lindsey & Africa and focuses on the recruitment of attorneys for in-house roles in the U.S. Southwestern and Mountain Regions. Currently located in Las Vegas, Nevada, she has developed additional expertise in talent acquisition for the gaming, gaming technology and hospitalities industries. She can be reached at (702) 254-1836, or abricca@mlaglobal.com.

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