The market for legal overflow support is incredibly active right now. As you may know, since you find yourself reading this blog, Priori is the legal marketplace that connects in-house teams with outside counsel and ALSPs for all kinds of projects. As Priori’s Director of Client Development, I’ve been able to observe current trends through the lens of in-house teams at companies in a wide-range of industries, sizes and maturity. Below are a few takeaways and bits of guidance if you’re a legal department leader navigating resourcing challenges.
The Trend: A Tough Time to Hire
It’s a hard time to hire in-house counsel. Much of the activity in our Marketplace is being driven by stretched in-house attorneys trying to keep pace with increased business activity, active M&A and financing markets and hiring delays for permanent additions to their team.
Commercial lawyers, particularly those with SaaS agreement experience, are in especially high demand. Competition to hire a technology transactions lawyer with coveted in-house tech company experience is fierce. The outlook for hiring a law firm associate for their first in-house job also isn’t particularly rosy. Given spikes in associate pay, the looming bonus season, and hiring competition from other companies, hiring an associate fresh out of a top firm to churn through complex agreements could take months.
Because of this talent shortage, there is a growing segment of credentialed lawyers with 8+ years of experience who are responding to the demand for flexible overflow support. However, engaging a solo practitioner, boutique firm lawyer or temporary headcount coverage for overflow work is increasingly challenging as demand for these arrangements has skyrocketed. It’s a great time to engage the professionals; at Priori we’re dedicated to offering this kind of help virtually on demand.
In Priori’s Marketplace, solo practitioners and lawyers at boutique commercial firms are originating hundreds of hours of business with Fortune 500s and fast-growing tech companies to provide 10 - 20 hours per week of overflow support. Most of these lawyers also have several years of in-house experience.
Tapping resources such as Priori for flexible legal help is one avenue available to in-house teams. Below are a few more options for getting work done when short-handed.
How to Navigate These Challenges
Equip your business team with the tools to self-serve for basic, low-risk agreements. As both a salesperson and a lawyer, I know that the thought of this may cause many in-house lawyers to shudder. But, especially during periods of increased sales volume like quarter-end, your business team must be empowered to handle certain things on their own. Think about where you’re comfortable with enabling self-service and where you aren’t, and put processes in place.
Don’t let timing force you to stick with traditional models. There are certainly countless situations that merit picking up the phone and calling your Am Law 50 firm partner. But, increasingly, there are better options outside of the Am Law for navigating the current in-house bandwidth crunch. Accessing these options, however, does require some foresight to avoid reflexively sending this kind of work to your Big Law firm during a fire drill. Familiarize yourself with the ever-expanding market. Consider running an RFP to identify the right boutique firms, ALSPs, solo practitioners, or high-level legal staffing companies for your needs. Your law department will be rewarded with the level of service, turnaround times, responsiveness, and value that your business teams need.
To shorten the hiring cycle, consider engaging a search firm for permanent hires. If you are looking at adding permanent headcount, this is the kind of market where retaining a search firm deserves some serious consideration. A traditional retained recruiting fee (33.3%) could very well be worth it at the moment to avoid the costly delays of a drawn-out search process. Consider engaging flexible support in tandem with this process to ensure your existing team is covered and morale remains high during workload spikes.