The Advantages Of Hiring Contract Attorneys And The Criteria To Do So

Thursday, May 1, 2008 - 01:00

The Editor interviews Dennis J. Foster , President, Major Legal Services, LLC; Michael McDonald, Regional Director, Kelly Law Registry; Michael Potters , Managing Partner, The Glenmont Group; Eric Sivin , Principal, Sivin Tobin Associates, LLC; Charles A. Volkert III , Executive Director, Robert Half Legal.

Editor: What advice do you have for corporate counsel to effectively augment their in-house capabilities with contract attorneys?

Foster: Contract attorneys can be an extremely cost-effective solution to temporary work demands within the legal department. Contract attorneys are frequently utilized by law firms to assist with high-volume case demands that exceed the capacity of current staff. The most compelling reason to hire contract counsel is when the work to be performed can be delegated to a competent but much less expensive lawyer.

Professional legal staffing firms not only vet these candidates thoroughly but also employ them directly. In so doing, all taxes and benefits are paid by the staffing company, and the corporation is charged a flat hourly rate for any work performed.

The corporation may employ these contract lawyers to work at their location, or anywhere needed, and to work (and charge) only for the time they are producing. The flexibility and control inherent in this arrangement has obvious benefits when the matter is handled in-house. Whether utilized in-house or through outside counsel, the use of contract attorneys is a cost-effective option when the nature of the work does not require the services of paid staff or outside counsel at considerably higher hourly rates.

McDonald: First, ask for what you want . Novices to the world of legal staffing are often astonished at the quality and specialty range of contract attorneys. For a variety of reasons, attorneys armed with first-tier credentials in education and practice experience are available for contract work. Our clients enjoy the flexibility of targeting candidates of the highest quality (and price), or, depending on the need, seeking qualified but less expensive talent. As a result, we have successfully accomplished searches ranging from document review attorneys to IP attorneys with exotic undergraduate degrees, top law school credentials and large firm experience.

Second, use contract attorneys to manage your spend . Many of our corporate clients use contract attorneys to exert more control over their legal services spend. In some cases, they require outside counsel to include the utilization of contract attorneys as part of their case budget analysis. In other cases, they bring casework in-house by supplementing the staff with contract attorneys. Based on 20 years in legal staffing, we can offer a menu of cost-saving suggestions. Potters: There has been a significant shift on the part of corporations in regard to utilizing document review attorneys in-house. The old belief was to let this be handled by your outside counsel or a vendor. While there is certainly a clear benefit to this approach (best practices, state-of-the-art technology, ownership and responsibility to name a few) the change of attitude has come along at the same time corporate law departments have been moving to bring in their own e-Discovery experts (permanent positions). By having a staff e-Discovery expert overseeing the team of doc review attorneys the corporation gains control of costs, project timelines, chain of custody and, most important, the message that is being sent to the shareholders.

Sivin: Sivin Tobin does not work with contract attorneys, so this is sort of advice from afar. Clearly, if you anticipate a very labor-intensive project of limited duration, it may make sense to use contract attorneys rather than make permanent hires, particularly if a good part of the work will be highly routinized. Just bear in mind that there will be less accountability and that the contract lawyers' work needs to be effectively supervised. In the right circumstances, this can be a cost-effective way to proceed.

Volkert: In today's increasingly complex legal field, continuous demands to enhance productivity and contain costs have resulted in a need for more innovative human resources solutions, including the use of contract attorneys. Many situations can arise that make hiring a project attorney the most efficient and cost-effective course of action for corporate counsel. For instance, a legal department may be faced with large-scale issues, such as Sarbanes-Oxley compliance, that threaten to overwhelm existing staff and stretch available personnel to the limit. Contract attorneys can offer assistance in many areas, including performing research, filing for an initial public offering and preparing documents for Securities and Exchange Commission filings.

By taking the time to carefully assess your law department's requirements and resources, you can determine whether or not a situation calls for one or more project attorneys. It's important to consider the following questions:

• Are the necessary skills, expertise and time resources available for the project internally?

• Is the project of a finite or short-term duration?

• Are full-time attorneys already stretched too thin?

• Could the extensive hours being logged by your full-time staff eventually lead to burnout?

Editor: What criteria should corporate counsel consider when selecting a legal placement organization?

Foster: Whether seeking to hire on a contract or direct-hire basis, counsel should select a professional recruiting firm that specializes in legal. The recruiting firm should have long-standing in the community (at least five to ten years, if not more), as they will likely have more resources, and access to more qualified lawyers, than a company that has less in-reach and outreach. Counsel will want to check company references, ensure that the company provides thorough vetting, and that the company operates under high ethical standards. The best recruiting firms present only candidates that are on-point to the criteria sought for the specific project. If corporate counsel is seeking contract attorneys, note that some lawyer recruiters do not offer this service. Legal staffing firms can provide a single contract lawyer, and some are equipped to put together a team in short order that is capable of handling matters involving high-volume e-discovery, hard-copy discovery and M&A due diligence preparation or reviews.

McDonald : Determine whether the company limits itself to staffing attorneys and paralegals, i.e., are they really specialists? Inquire about the credentials and experience of the recruiting team. Ask for a description of the sourcing and recruiting processes employed by the company. Ask why highly qualified contract candidates would choose them over the competition. Ask the same question regarding potential clients and ask for references.

Ask about the post-placement relationship. Does the staffing agency use technology to simplify timecards, billing and candidate management after placement? Does the agency offer national or global search capability? More broadly, inquire about longevity, financial security and why you should trust them with your business.

Potters: The approach we recommend most often for corporations is to bring a strong e-Discovery person in house, preferably a "hands-on" person, one who has been through the discovery trenches (slightly bruised preferably - they'll love moving to corporate). A strong current Litigation Support Manager at an AMLAW 100 firm is often a good choice, or an attorney who has managed this process from beginning to end. We recommend avoiding the attorney who has not managed the process - you cannot afford any mistakes in the learning curve period. Believe it or not, while we do not directly benefit from it, we sometimes recommend looking under your own nose. Very often there are candidates currently working in your department (or sometimes in records management) that have an extremely strong head for the technology involved and the career path desire to take on this challenge. You can augment this talent by sending them to George Socha's site at www.sochaconsulting.com to download Electronic Discovery Reference Model material or by going to The Sedona Conference site at www.sedonaconference.org.

The last piece of advice is to be realistic on compensation. You get what you pay for, and these experts do not come cheaply. The "bargains" can end up doing great damage to a corporation and its shareholders by making one or two wrong decisions. Unfortunately, the biggest stumbling block tends to be the pay bands that many corporations have.

Sivin: The correct choice of a legal placement firm can make all the difference with respect to the overall success of hiring your legal staff. Not every search firm is the right choice for your organization. I would recommend that a company consider the following:

• Is the search firm a well-established organization with an excellent reputation?

• Can the search firm provide strong references as to their effectiveness?

• Are you satisfied that the search firm will represent your company in a discreet and ethical manner?

• Meet the point person who will work on your account and be satisfied that you are comfortable with that person, both in terms of his or her expertise as well as the manner and approach to be employed.

• Find out what resources the firm is willing to commit to your projects. In this connection, will the firm utilize a team approach for your benefit?

As a general proposition, the more important a particular hiring project is to your organization, the more careful and selective you should be in choosing the correct search firm.

Volkert: Once you decide to retain a project attorney, you will need to locate someone with the skills and experience for the assignment. For busy corporate counsel, conducting a search of this nature may be an overwhelming task. Specialized staffing firms can help by managing the search and evaluating potential candidates. A reputable legal staffing firm will:

• Interview each candidate to establish expertise and legal background.

• Conduct thorough reference checks to verify work histories.

• Monitor the project attorney's progress to ensure a successful assignment.

• Handle administrative functions such as salary, government-mandated payroll deductions and related personnel matters.