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Is the Market Turning?

Apparently the recession officially ended earlier this year. Indeed, major bleeding within the legal profession generally has stopped. "Major bleeding," in this context, means widespread layoffs at large law firms and deep cuts in-house within struggling industries, such as finance and automotive. So, there is a basis for thinking that the job market for attorneys must be turning for the better.

Sadly, however, the supply of unemployed attorneys remains far ahead of demand. I think "static" is a fair assessment of the current job market, especially for inside counsel. When a company loses an attorney to retirement or a lateral move, at least that position is getting filled and legal departments are not losing headcount. However, my general counsel friends and clients tell me it's harder than ever to get approval for additional headcount. In fact, I'm hearing that many GCs risk a viscerally negative reaction and political capital if they even ask.

I perceive a significant cultural change among Fortune 500 companies with respect to the legal function generally. Whether the lawyers are outside counsel or inside employees, corporate America is reassessing the cost and importance of attorneys. General counsels no longer wield open checkbook power. Chief Financial Officers, procurement departments and even human resources professionals are intruding profoundly on legal's turf. In corporate-speak this is called "teamwork" and "managing to budgets." Make no mistake that, in reality, what's happening is a tectonic power shift.

This leads me to the "tips" portion of this particular column. When a staff attorney opening exists, it's more and more likely that HR will lead on the search effort. That means a job posting, and these will be done at the lowest possible cost and within HR's comfort zone. Look for more attorney positions on general job boards such as Monster and CareerBuilder, where companies have bulk order accounts. The most successful inside counsel jobs board since 1990 has gone virtually dry compared with just a few years ago. This website is the Association of Corporate Counsel site (www.acc.com), which gets some activity from legal staffing firms that buy in bulk, but fewer direct employer posts. It's expensive, and HR is less familiar with it. I can always tell that a legal department is at least influencing HR when a posting appears at acc.com.

A site called Go In-House (www.goinhouse.com) has been gaining a lot of traction, and I highly recommend this one to my readers who are in the market. This site is about two years old and the founders have done an excellent job of getting HR's attention. For now, postings are free at Go In-House, which has certainly helped it build critical mass. Once the site starts charging for the postings, it will be interesting to see if the HR folks remain as enthusiastic.

You may be wondering why a legal search consultant is recommending job boards. After all, I make my living placing lawyers with corporate legal departments. Nonetheless, I don't stick my head in the sand. It used to be that recruiters were engaged for almost any in-house opening, at the discretion of general counsel who had more political power. Those good old days are gone.

Yet, legal recruiters have not gone away. There are fewer of us and we compete for a smaller number of job orders. But at least they tend to be high quality job orders. Companies turn to recruiters to source and screen on leadership-level searches and to fill positions requiring esoteric subject matter expertise. And much of our work flow comes from smaller companies that lack the HR resources to handle an attorney search properly.

So, don't forget to get your resume into my hands, and the hands of my competitors. You want us to know about you and your credentials as we get new assignments. In a static job market, go with the clich? - leave no stone unturned. Look at a broader range of job boards, and spend more time getting to know recruiters. All of this is, of course, in addition to pursuing leads via your own network of corporate and personal contacts.

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Mike Evers

Mike Evers recruits attorneys for corporate legal departments throughout the United States. Please visit www.everslegal.com. His...

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