Monday, October 31, 2011

In-house only

In-house only

If I have heard it once, I have heard t 1,000 (and probably more) times as a recruiter:  “I am not interested in another firm, but I am interested in in-house opportunities.”  When I ask why a lawyer is limiting her career plans to in-house, the responsibilities include: law firms are all the same, I want more predictability in my schedule, I don’t want to bill my time anymore, or I want to be part of the business.”  Other than the first (law firms are not fungible), these are valid reasons; the risks of going in-house are ending your training, losing your legal skills, thus, exposing yourself to a different type of insecurity.
After six years of burning the post-midnight oil as a midtown associate, I took a job as a 9-6 staff attorney at an advertising agency.  The work was varied and interesting, I never worked a weekend and the only reason I ever stayed in the building past 6 was to attend a concert or party at the Company bar.  I would probably still be working there had there not been a hostile takeover and lay off of 80% of the legal department.
I was fortunate to land a position as General Counsel of a newly NYSE listed motion picture production and distribution company.  On my first day on the job, the CEO and majority shareholder welcomed me and told me to make legal a “profit center.”   I nodded, left his office, and asked the first person I found what a “profit center” was. The company president told me I had to reduce the legal budget. When I suggested using an excellent regional firm I knew well instead of our first-rate Manhattan outside counsel, he told me that was impossible because of the close relationship between the CEO and that firm’s relationship partner. How I managed those goals is the subject of another blog.
The job consisted of exciting 12-hour days managing the day-to-day legal function, regular travel to Hollywood and London and, ultimately, a Chapter 11 filing (which was tremendous learning experience for what it’s worth).  I had developed management skills and learned a lot about how clients use and view their lawyers; I decided that my in-house experience had best suited to me to private practice where I could apply my new skills and grow my legal skill set before it atrophied completely. [How I became a recruiter ten years later is also the subject of another blog or maybe a screenplay.]
I have fond and grateful memories of my days in-house. What I especially liked about it was that my clients were my colleagues.  Many became clients in my private practice and remain friends. If you are not happy in private practice, the right in-house job can be a perfect antidote.  You may have to make trade-offs in compensation and upward mobility. And the pressure of having one client and one boss can be excruciating. My advice is to consider all your options, both firm and in-house. And bear in mind the old adage: watch out what you wish for, because you may get it.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Value Lawyering, Part II. How to conduct a professional assessment.

Value Lawyering, Part II.
How to conduct a professional assessment.

Because the need for and the fundamentals of law practice remain constant, this environment requires all lawyers to perform a rigorous self-assessment of their goals and their skills and to plot a career strategy:
1. Determine how your academic credentials stack up objectively (e.g., law school ranking, class rank, honors, clerkships) and how are lawyers with your experience and skill set faring in the current market.
2. Are you organized, analytical, and outgoing? What non-legal education and work experience and life skills do you have that will help you enhance or retool your practice?
3.  Establish honestly your career goals and priorities, both near and long term.  What is your dream job?  Do you want to stay in the law? Do you want to maximize your compensation or your personal time? Do you prefer a more or less structured work environment? Do you want to be a “headliner” or a staffer?  Do you like working with lawyers?
4. Stay informed-what jobs are available?  How do they stack up against your current job and your dream job?
5. Do you have an interest and aptitude for client development? Map out a strategy for attracting clients.
A good career counselor or recruiter helps give you the tools to evaluate your situation and determine the way forward.  That requires you to examine closely what you want to do, what you can do and what is available. You may decide to stay where you are, to test the market aggressively or to invest in yourself though education. Whatever you decide, a skills inventory is a wise investment in your career.

© 2011 David Bargman
President, Baum, Stevens

David Bargman was quoted in last week

Amongst the bleak talk about jobs in and around The Great Recession are dismal numbers for attorneys who are looking for work. Which led to wonder: Is in-house hiring up or down? And given the choice between candidates for a law department job, do lawyers who are long in the tooth fare better or worse than their less-experienced and cheaper counterparts?

Well, it turns out, there is good news and bad news. It just depends on who you ask. 

Robin Scullin, ACC's director of communication and public relations, said in an email to that the association's statistics show that corporate law department hiring is going up as more work is being brought in-house. 

ACC vice president of legal resources James Merklinger told the Chicago Tribune recently that its volume of job listings has more than doubled since the start of the year. The Tribune, however, focused on the difficulties faced by older workers in the profession who may be passed over in favor of lower-cost workers with less experience.

A search of ACC's 822 job listings today yielded only 183 staff attorney positions. The majority of vacancies advertised required significant experience.

Nicky Mukerji is director of business intelligence at Nashville-based Legalbill, a consulting and analysis firm that helps companies reduce legal spending. What's he's seeing in his practice is that to the extent that companies are hiring, they're hiring higher-end attorneys. 

"You get someone who has already managed matters," says Mukerji. He notes that those attorneys who have extensive experience working on either side of the inside/outside counsel relationship are going to be more beneficial to companies. Those attorneys "know how to leverage outside counsel to gain the maximum advantage for the most optimum price," he says. 

But Mukerji says if corporate hires were escalating substantially, he would expect to see evidence in their outside counsel spending. "I haven't see a whole lot of reduction, I've just seen growth," says Mukerji. 

Of his corporate clients that are hiring new in-house counsel, Mukerji says one thing seems pretty clear: "When you're trying to get legal work done, if you're looking from a business-management point of view, it's an in-source versus outsource decision."

Law departments tend to have a lot more information than ever before about their legal spend, says Mukerji. And they're using that information to make educated decisions about where to put their dollars. Mukerji says every choice—between hiring in-house counsel, outside counsel, a contract attorney, or using legal-process outsourcing—is now being made based on aggregated data.

"Because of the economic conditions we were in, there has been a shift in law department management—which is focusing on objective as much as subjective information," says Mukerji. 

And money is still tight across the corporate economy."Given the economic circumstances, corporations are less inclined to hire something that's a fixed cost—a lawyer—unless they absolutely need it," says David Bargman, president of Baum, Stevens, Inc., a New York-based legal recruiting firm. 

According to Bargman, in-house lawyers have fared very poorly in The Great Recession. "The only ones who are successful, by and large, are the very senior attorneys," he says, "people who command business already, people who are in charge of things like compliance, maybe, but by and large there's not much of a market."

Bargman says in his practice he isn't seeing evidence of an uptick in hiring of either in-house or private practice attorneys. "The law firms are cutting back, too," says Bargman, "because they don't have enough work right now. They'll bring someone in if they think they can make a profit off of him or her."

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Value Lawyering

Value investing is a strategy that advocates buying securities that trade at less than their “intrinsic value” based on fundamentals such as high discounts to book value, high dividend yields, low price-to-earnings multiples, a healthy balance sheet, and a sound business plan.  The value investor resists bubbles and irrational exuberance and treads cautiously in a bull market.
Similarly, an emphasis on value benefits a lawyer in maintaining her “security” in different economic climates. Each lawyer seeks out her own area and type of practice.  Whether in private practice, company, or public sector, “value lawyering” requires continuing attention to the fundamental skills of lawyering: drafting, negotiation, counseling, written and oral advocacy, research, cross-examination, and a personal commitment to continuing education.
I speak to dozens of associates weekly; their goals, if they have one, include partnership, work-life balance, in-house and public sector or not-for-profit.  They may want to practice in an industry such as media and entertainment, alternate investment, or manufacturing.  Whatever the industry, whatever the sector, a practicing lawyer must continuously enhance her value by focusing on these fundamentals. 
Of course, value lawyering, like value investing, cannot eliminate risk.  Vision, flexibility, and resilience are also essential to a successful portfolio or career.  Having value lawyering in your career development toolkit will help you grow your “portfolio” personally and professionally. 
© 2011 David Bargman
President, Baum, Stevens