Advice On Meeting Legal Staffing Challenges

Thursday, November 1, 2007 - 01:00

The Editor interviews Charles A. Volkert, Executive Director of Robert Half Legal, and Dennis J. Foster, President of Major Legal Services.

Editor: What developments in the law have had the greatest impact on legal staffing in 2007?

Volkert : Changes in federal e-Discovery rules and an increase in litigation matters have added to the volume of electronic review that corporate legal departments must manage. Also contributing to increased workloads are ongoing regulatory compliance issues. These factors are prompting additional hiring and companies are competing not only among themselves for lawyers with these skills but, in many cases, with law firms.

Foster : Companies are becoming more global in their operational growth and strategic planning. To compete and succeed, this involves both consistency and flexibility on management and operational levels so that the growth can be controlled in terms of market demand/interest and production capability. The companies must have management and personnel that understand the unique dynamics necessary for success on the local level in each market. Likewise, lawyers in firms which compete for corporate business, and companies developing their in-house law departments, must hire personnel who have localized insight and expertise, and who can strategize with current knowledge, and foresight, in developing markets. Further, candidate diversity is becoming critical to global success.

Editor: What factors should corporate counsel consider when developing a legal staffing strategy?

Volkert : There are some developments that should be taken into account when creating a staffing plan. A declining supply of law school graduates and professionals with specialized expertise is creating a competitive hiring environment in law firms and corporate legal departments. Experience in specialty areas including litigation, intellectual property, commercial real estate and corporate law is desirable, and many employers are willing to pay higher salaries for in-demand skill sets.

In response, many organizations are streamlining their hiring processes to more quickly extend job offers to the most promising candidates. Even so, legal departments are watching budgets closely and many are augmenting their in-house teams with project legal professionals as a way to reduce the cost of outside counsel. In addition, many feel that keeping more work in-house provides the flexibility to meet goals more efficiently.

Interim legal professionals, such as project attorneys, paralegals and legal support staff, can supplement the skills and expertise of full-time employees, while also protecting core workers. By using project professionals as a staffing "buffer," managers can tap into talent with the necessary skills and experience, and seamlessly staff up or down as needed. This strategic staffing approach allows in-house counsel to reduce outside counsel spending, in many cases by 30 percent to 50 percent.

Some of the biggest expenses a firm or department faces are related to the loss of valued staff. Retention remains important as competition for the best legal professionals intensifies.

Foster : In developing a legal staffing strategy, factors mentioned above should be addressed if the firm or company is conducting business globally. Other factors include costs in terms of the recruiting process, the training cycle, the value of hiring the best candidates and the resources necessary to reach and acquire them. Counsel may also wish to consider incorporating psychological testing as a measure of a candidate's suitability/compatibility for a particular position.