Career Development

Recruiting the Next Generation of Legal Talent

Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, we spoke with Steven Lynch, general manager at executive recruiting firm Lucas Group. Here he discusses recent hiring trends in the legal world, as well as how he’s been advising clients.

CCBJ: What are some current trends you’re seeing in hiring?

Steven Lynch: At law firms, in the associate ranks, there’s a low supply and high demand for mid-level data privacy, cybersecurity and tech transactions. Another hot area is related to the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), the first U.S. equivalent to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe, a version of which is expected to be adopted by most states. Law firms and companies are looking for attorneys familiar with CCPA.

Generally speaking, the demand for data privacy and cybersecurity exists at every company and law firm. It’s a high-demand, low-supply area. The other main areas of interest are the transactional ones: mergers and acquisitions (M&A), private equity, venture capital, and all of the various forms of finance. Health care is another area that remains hot and probably will for some time. We’re likely headed into a recession. After the recent market crash and drop in the price of oil, everything is pointing in that direction. But health care will remain a hot practice area. And that carries over to the partner requests that we get. When we meet with a law firm, and they’re seeking to expand, whether it’s by hiring an individual partner or a group of partners, it’s generally in those transactional areas that I mentioned: M&A, private equity, health care, tech transactions.

We’ve seen a few requests for litigation, some of which has to do with the increase in product liability class actions, whether existing (talcum powder) or on the horizon such as – the opioid epidemic and the collective actions facing those drug manufacturers. Medical device suits will always be active and a hot area under the products’ umbrella. When one ends, another begins..

As far as corporations are concerned, the demand has increased for highly skilled transactional attorneys. And it’s really causing private law firms some heartburn because these companies are stealing their best talent and bringing it in-house. A lot of lawyers are getting trained and spending a year, maybe two, at a private firm, then they end up going in-house, either with a client or recruited by a company that’s looking to increase the size of its law department in order to cut down on outside counsel costs.

How has the legal industry evolved in its approach to recruiting and retention?

Law firms and corporations are both spending more time in the interview and vetting processes, to be sure that potential hires fit within the company or firm’s overall culture. Obviously, they make sure that laterals and new hires have the skill sets and quality of education necessary for the substantive parts of the position, but they’re also spending a lot more time learning about the individual, their career goals, and what makes them tick.

This generation of attorneys wants more of a professional purpose to work toward. No longer is every lawyer seeking to become partner, at least not in private practice. And not every attorney is seeking to become general counsel if they’re in-house. They’re less likely to consider the job they’re in to be their last, and a lot of them don’t plan to practice law forever either. So the million-dollar question is how does the firm allow them to scratch that creative and entrepreneurial itch. That’s why lot of law firms and corporations are investing a lot more resources into the interview process, to make sure that new hires are the right fit.

Law firms are investing in other perks as well, such as hiring health-and-wellness directors, because mental health can be a big issue for the law profession in general. You’re also seeing corporations add additional benefits to attract and retain this generation of attorneys. We’re even seeing law firms with counselors on site for attorneys to go to in order to assist with stress and anxiety relief. Yoga is being offered, as well as other mindfulness programs. We’re also seeing creative work schedules. More attorneys are working remotely, both for firms and for corporations. They’re all trying to figure out ways to not only attract talent but also retain it.

This is a different generation of attorneys, and firms and corporations alike are trying to meet their needs. A lot more attention is being paid to diversity and inclusion. Every law firm and corporation is looking to recruit and retain more women and minorities. That demand for diversity and inclusion initiatives from law firms is a reflection of their clients’ desires. Almost any major client will be expecting law firms to have a diverse bench to represent them.

“This is a different generation of attorneys, and firms and corporations alike are trying to meet their needs.” –Steven Lynch

How are you advising employers on best practices for hiring nontraditional in-house roles for newer law firm roles?

In cases where there’s that low supply and high demand, our job as recruiters is to make sure that we’re educating employers about what to expect from the market. Some of these areas, especially in compliance, are new. Employers have to understand that there might literally only be 10 people in their city that have that expertise in the class year range that they’re requiring us to stay within, and therefore, the probability of them landing one of them isn’t great.

For example, I mentioned CCPA earlier, and there are very few attorneys that have that specific experience. There are more that have GDPR experience, because they represent international clients, and there’s a lot of carryover in the regs. So one of the things that I recommend to firms or corporations that are looking for that experience is to be creative, and be open to providing some training. If we can find them somebody with GDPR experience, they should consider that person and provide them with some professional development opportunities to gain that CCPA specific knowledge & experience. We’re not going to find an exact match, so they’ve got to interview candidates that are close. They have to be flexible. They have to be creative.

When you’re dealing with law firms, there has to be an exact class year, because they have certain billing rates that are associated with that. They also need to understand that law firms are competing with corporations, and private practice is not always where an attorney is going to want to stay. When they have an opportunity to go in-house, a lot of times a junior or mid-level attorney will jump at it. They don’t want to bill hours anymore. Not only is the lateral market tight for finding that expertise, but they’re actually competing against their corporate clients’ seeking to build their internal legal department.

How you are advising clients – individual attorneys, in this case – who are considering leaving the practice of law?

First, I try to make sure that they’re not just having a bad day or a bad week, or a bad month for that matter. If they’re running from their employer because there’s something wrong, we try to help them fix what’s broken and, if that’s not possible, find a new employer that will allow them to continue to practice. When you walk away from practicing law, it’s very difficult to go back. So, we want to make sure that they’ve thought it through and that there isn’t another firm or corporation that would provide them job satisfaction or a better career path.

If they’re still determined to leave the practice of law, and we can’t convince them to reconsider, we try to find out what they’re seeking to do. Just as I would counsel an attorney who’s seeking to change firms or go in-house or just generally advance their career, I try to find out what they’re passionate about. What are they hoping to accomplish in their career? What are their family’s income goals? What are their personal goals? I’ll always be honest and set expectations at an appropriate place. If their desired career change is unrealistic I have to deliver some hard realities but it does no one any good to set expectations at too high of a place. There are certain roles and industries that – I hate to say it, but it’s true – almost frown upon having a doctor of jurisprudence degree.

For example, you might think that an employment attorney would make a great human resource director, but I have found that companies typically don’t want to hire attorneys for human resources roles. It’s counterintuitive, but it is the case. We have an HR recruiting team here at Lucas Group that I’ve tried to direct lawyers to, and the simple fact is they have a hard time putting lawyers in those roles. My point is that we try to set expectations in an appropriate way for our candidates. If you’re looking to leave the practice of law, you’ll find that you can’t always select exactly what you want to do. You should have a backup plan. Once we understand where they’re hoping to go, we help them generate options. We have other executive search areas here at Lucas Group, so we’ll make introductions to other recruiters and business professionals in our network in their desired area. Generally speaking, we coach them on how to gain a skill set or the expertise that they may be lacking in order to be competitive for the types of jobs that they’re ultimately interested in.

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