Legal and Compliance Executive Search Blog

Trends in Corporate Legal Departments

Posted by Momentum Search Partners on Tue, Jun 24, 2014
trends in corporate legal departmentsOur team of Texas legal recruiters recently attended the annual conference of the National Association of Legal Search Consultants (NALSC), the professional organization that promulgates ethical standards and best practices in the legal recruiting profession. The key note speech was presented by James Merklinger, Vice President and General Counsel of the Association of Corporate Counsel. His talk about in-house legal department trends was insightful and we thought would be of interest to many of our readers. Below is a brief summary with our annotations:

Biggest challenges for hiring in-house counsel:

Legal departments desire, first and foremost, attorneys with not just hard legal skills but also business acumen, project management skills, and an understanding of performance metrics.

Legal departments are now required to operate more like independent business units and use metrics to gauge their performance – thus the need for attorneys who can apply business principals to the legal department. For more information on corporate legal department metrics see this link:

Higher job satisfaction reported by In-house Counsel:

86% of in-house attorneys report high job satisfaction. They most enjoy their role in helping one client achieve its objectives - not just providing legal counsel on a project by project basis. They also enjoy working with others who are collegial and team-oriented.

Personality and Interpersonal Skills are important criteria for hiring:

Because of the collaboration and team-oriented nature of an in-house role, interpersonal skills and the ability to get along and communicate well are key considerations for hiring attorneys in corporate legal departments. They are concerned with whether candidates are “nice.”

In-house attorneys are Getting Younger:

60% are Gen X&Y and 40% are Baby Boomers (out of 30,000 ACC members surveyed).

Some companies, such as IBM, are hiring new law school graduates to lower salaries and train to their specific company methods and culture.

Companies are expected to add more in-house attorneys as an effort to decrease outside legal costs.

Due to the high hourly rates charged by outside counsel, companies will continue to find it cost effective to hire in-house counsel.

Most Popular Job Categories posted on ACC job board:

  • Contracts
  • Commercial
  • Compliance
  • Securities
  • Transactional
  • Intellectual Property
  • Pharmaceutical
  • Technology
  • Finance
  • Other

Top Skills in Demand:

  • Compliance
  • Regulatory
  • Data privacy/breaches
  • Intellectual Property/Technology/Social Media
  • Mergers & Acquisitions
  • Ability to work with C-Suite executives
  • Leaders who work with others as a business partner and who understands business
  • Can do much more than just strictly legal work – wear lots of hats

In-house attorneys need to understand the different nature of an in-house role and realize they may not be viewed favorably.

This can be a difficult transition for private practice attorneys. Often in-house lawyers are seen as presenting obstacles to what business people want to do and overly concerned with the legal aspects of a proposal. Hiring attorneys are trying to find attorneys who, rather than being an obstacle, can help the business team accomplish their goals in a way that minimizes risk. Being able to communicate legal issues in plain, simple terms is also often a challenge for attorneys making the transition from law firms to in-house.

In-house attorneys are often required to train other department employees on legal issues.

Training is now often a key part of an in-house counsel’s role. This is another reason why interpersonal skills and the ability to communicate well are critical skills for in-house lawyers today.

Our experience at Momentum Search Partners confirms many of these observations. We routinely hear from our in-house clients how important business understanding is to their hiring criteria, and how critical it is that attorneys understand the different role of an in-house attorney and have good interpersonal skills and the ability to communicate well.

Attorneys wanting to move in-house would do well to promote their own business skills by taking business courses, getting involved with business clients whenever possible, and offering to help clients with business matters pro-bono. The ACC website has some great resources, including their “Value Challenge” workshop. And remember to be nice.

Topics: job success, in house, general counsels