This summer, your law firms are spending a lot of time and energy wooing summer associates. With fewer students enrolling in law school than in the past and even fewer staying in the profession once they've paid off their student loans, competition between firms for legal talent has spiked over the past year. Salary wars are raging in major markets as firms vie to attract and retain the best young lawyers. Many large firms are paying summer associates upwards of $2,000 per week to attract promising candidates.
Legal departments too are facing a shortage of resources--not because of a lack of talented young lawyers looking to move in-house--but rather because of budgets that simply won't let them staff up as much as they'd like to. A quick look at our list of the 200 largest legal departments (see p. 57 for results) reveals that the 200th largest department has only 27 attorneys. This number is virtually unchanged from five years ago, when the 200th largest department had 32 attorneys. In addition, the surveys we conduct regarding legal department budgets and spending show that law departments have been working with nearly static resources for years. For instance, our 2006 budget survey showed that the median legal department budget in 2006 is $1.75 million--only an incremental increase over 2003 levels, when the median budget was $1.5 million.
However, almost every legal department is doing a lot more work than it was five years ago in the pre-Sarbanes-Oxley world. Therefore, legal departments are under continuing pressure to do more with the same resources.
There's a certain threshold at which a department simply can't work harder. In order to get more work done with the same number of attorneys on staff, the department has to work smarter and increase productivity.
Doing so requires you to capitalize on the best ideas from each of the firms you employ. Tell your outside counsel what their competitors are doing right. Then ask them to do the same. If they can't, find out why.
During the hot days of August, law firms shouldn't be spending all of their time wooing young lawyers with expensive lunches; they also should be wooing you with strong ideas that will keep you moving forward into a productive and successful fall.
Let me know what you think by e-mailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.