A personal friend of mine was just laid off from a Fortune 500 law department in the aftermath of what has to be honestly labeled a power struggle. While in-house positions are generally secure — indeed, that is one of the strong selling points for going in-house — surprises occur. Companies evolve, merge, change or sometimes fail.
Most of the time, the next step will be an in-house position elsewhere. But there is a significant uptick in the number of inside counsel who are returning to law firms. And not as the worker bees.
The battle for new clients and, frankly, client retention, is ongoing and non-stop now at law firms. Gone, for the most part, are the days of “institutional clients” handed down from generation to generation within a law firm. Today’s mantra is relationships, relationships, relationships.
I don’t handle law firm placement, so this is my version of pro bono work: I am helping my friend put together a robust business plan that will help him pivot back to a law firm career. For starters, it’s what he wants to do. I don’t recommend this approach if it’s not in your heart. But if you want to build a practice, you might be pleasantly surprised at how marketable you are right now in law firm world.
Inside counsel control a greater percentage of legal work than ever. Not so many years ago, law firm Rainmakers sold around law departments and got work directly from CEOs, CFOs, division presidents, etc. Now, the general counsel and her team are the law firm’s clients. If you have an in-house network in place, ideally beyond just the four walls of your current company, then you have the starting point for success as a Rainmaker. Moreover, your understanding of what clients want, and how law departments budget and allocate work, is valuable knowledge within a law firm.
The business plan should have three major components:
- An outline of your relationships.
- Specific timelines for meeting with potential clients, organizing events to which you can invite your contacts (such as CLE), conferences you will attend, and as much marketing activity as you can articulate. The value here is three-fold. Your plan will stand out as serious and thoughtful, it will buy you the necessary time to convert contacts into clients, and it will push you to actually engage in those activities once you join the firm.
- Discuss your managerial expertise and how it can benefit the law firm. You are uniquely positioned to help troubleshoot client relationships that are teetering, and otherwise advise firm management on best practices for presenting services to inside counsel.
Once you have the attention of a law firm that makes sense for you (many variables, I’ll address that in a future column), the key ingredients for success are time, title and money.
Even if you do everything right, it will take six to 12 months for your efforts to begin yielding results. Most law firms understand that. But most will also ask, “What can you bring in the door today?” Don’t fall into the trap of promising work from your most recent employer unless you are 100 percent certain you can be the carrier pigeon for existing matters.
Insist on partner as your title. It’s ok if you are paid behind the scenes like a special counsel or similar. In fact, you might not merit a ton of money until you start to deliver and make some rain. But the partner title is important from an image standpoint when developing your book of business.
If you thought I meant salary, you may not be cut out for this transition. If you are thinking “marketing budget,” then you are going to be one of the inside counsel who makes a very successful pivot back to a firm. Only go to a law firm that will generously back your business development efforts.