The legal profession’s headline story continues to be corporate resistance to traditional law firm billing rates and the movement away from hourly billing. Beyond the headline comes details of strained client-firm relationships, layoffs at law firms and a full-blown crisis for law school students who graduate into a market completely disinterested in entry-level hiring.
Under the press radar, disruption within BigLaw ranks is creating a talent shortage for in-house legal departments. I see you scratching your head, as you correctly observe so many experienced attorneys looking for quality employment. And if you are an in-house attorney who is looking for a job, spoiler alert: You will want to smash your computer before you get to the end of this column.
Law departments are selectively hiring many of the corporate associates who were downsized by BigLaw within the past three years if they had at least a few years of experience before the layoffs hit. That has actually become a pretty good story of quality attorneys getting back on track. Two large categories of those BigLaw Associates are still out in the cold, however: litigators and anyone without the personal characteristics needed to win in an in-house interview process. So, the supply of desirable ex-BigLaw talent is just about exhausted.
Foreseeing this disconnect on low-six-figure in-house positions, I optimistically suggested in previous columns that unemployed senior attorneys would fill the holes. Plenty of experienced in-house attorneys with tremendous resumes would gladly take these counsel-level positions. I was naïve. Companies seem more afraid of hiring overqualified candidates than I can ever remember. This is especially true among companies that are coming out of long periods with hiring freezes or lack of headcount growth. General counsel of these departments have plenty of senior attorneys on board, and they want to fill the junior steps of their ladders. That does make sense when general counsel are looking at long-term career path and promotion issues within a pyramid structure.