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Where Are the Good Associates for In-House Counsel Jobs?


If your firm is planning to recruit the best law firm associates for in-house counsel positions in 2017, you’ll be well served to fully understand the market conditions you’ll be facing, and thoughtfully consider the most effective strategy to pursue. 

To fully understand what the market looks like today, we need to examine both sides of the equation since the conditions faced today are clearly a result of both supply and demand shifts, and these conditions are not going away in the foreseeable future. 

Law Firm Candidate Supply

Most General Counsel would agree that the largest law firms are excellent training grounds for in-house counsel. Large law firms annually compete for top law graduates, they offer outstanding opportunities for associates to cut their teeth and grow capabilities with the most demanding and sophisticated legal work. Senior lawyers with the firms are most likely and able to encourage associates to develop highly specialized skills and a healthy appetite for working hard. 

As for experience, four years is a reasonable minimum for developing legal acumen, business skills and the self-confidence needed to be effective in a corporate setting. Demonstrating the ability to truly partner with corporate clients is crucial, and that isn’t going to happen overnight.

Following the global financial crisis of 2008-09 and the ensuing recession, large law hiring dipped dramatically and bottomed out in 2011. While modest improvement has occurred in recent years, the reality is that hiring at large law firms continues to be relatively flat. So the pool of quality associate candidates with the legal experience necessary to make them attractive is at a modern all-time low.

At the same time, associate compensation has improved in recent years, so the historical pay gap between large law and corporate in-house counsel has only widened.

Considering many associates are still paying off college loans and their level of satisfaction is higher than in previous years, the best associates are often delaying the move in-house and the accompanying reduction in compensation.

Corporate In-House Counsel Demand

While the qualified candidate pool is down, corporate demand for candidates continues to grow. Corporations recognize, for multiple reasons, that they may be best served by growing the overall capacity and capabilities of their law departments.

On the most basic level, corporations are recognizing that they can more effectively manage their overall legal spend by bringing more work in-house that is currently done by outside counsel. The recession accelerated this thinking, and it continued even as the economy recovered.

In addition, the largest corporations understand that in-house specialists who are integrated with the business can be crucial in risk management roles and as strategic counsel to the business team.

Candidate Attraction Strategy  

Faced with these challenges, here are a few suggestions you should consider for a successful recruiting experience:

  • Take the time to define the role you’re hiring for with clarity and an eye to future growth. Growth potential is a major attraction for mid-level attorneys. See our recent article for guidance.
  • Cast a wide net. You’re looking for a very specific candidate in a candidate-driven market, so you need to ensure that the broadest possible audience has a chance to consider your assignment.
  • Pursue the passive candidates. Consider that the best candidates aren’t looking, so you need to reach out to them directly and personally with an exciting proposition.
  • Be prepared to sell the opportunity. Talented associates who aren’t attracted to the business development requirements or lifestyle of a partner are looking for a path in-house. Sell the opportunity as well as the future possibilities to the passive candidates to whom your promise is attractive.

And if you find yourself struggling to attract candidates of the quality and cultural fit that your organization needs to succeed, call in a specialized expert. Market conditions like those we’re facing today create a challenging recruiting landscape where boutique recruiters like BarkerGilmore can deliver results that make a difference.

Topics: Recruiting   |   In-House Counsel


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