Imagine you’re an eager, smart and ambitious attorney but you’re unhappy with the breakdown of your practice at your current law firm. For example, you’re interested in litigating more cases under the umbrella of intellectual property, yet your firm doesn’t have that kind of work for you. You’ve still got years to go on the partnership track – and you’re starting to question if this is the right path for you after all. Only a small fraction of attorneys typically make partner, and according to a 2018 ALM New Partner Survey of 425 attorneys recently elevated to partnership, more than 70 percent of those said they were dissatisfied with at least part of their new position. Is it time to look for another firm? Should you consider moving to in-house counsel at a corporation?
As the General Manager of the Legal Division at Lucas Group, I’ve received phone calls from many attorneys who are facing this dilemma. While their practice areas and professional needs may differ, they call us because they seek advice on potentially moving in a new direction.
When an attorney has tried but cannot fix what is broken at his or her current firm, recruiters can help them to find a solution and a more satisfying career path. When my team of executive recruiters across the country consult with attorneys (of all levels), we are not looking to make a quick transaction and collect a fee. Rather, our roles as legal recruiters are evolving into more of a life-long, career counselor partner.
When one attorney called Lucas Group to discuss his current situation and future career choices, we looked at a variety of options before placing him at a firm with a focus on sports entertainment and software licensing. He loved the idea.
After some time passed, he realized with some certainty that he was unlikely to make partner and that the firm’s prevailing culture was “move up or move on.” In other words, when he was told his career wasn’t going to advance to partner at this law firm, it was time for him to make a strategic move.
This time when he called, he was exhausted with private practice and sought to transition to a corporate in-house legal department. Lucas Group helped to navigate his career to a major sports media corporation, where he played a key role in the highest tier of licensing for sports and entertainment in Atlanta. Because Lucas Group’s policy is to not place someone in a role only to pull them out again at a later date, we assisted this attorney with the blessing of the firm he was departing.
Today, when an attorney is seeking to move in-house, he or she is often referred to Lucas Group by the firm’s recruiting department or by another attorney or colleague within that firm. Not only can Lucas Group help a lawyer transition to a corporate legal position, but we can also work with the firm to fill the vacancy that a departing attorney creates.
While once taboo, more law firms are incorporating in-house career counseling as part of their professional development programs. With a holistic approach to investing in talent, these programs are designed to help attorneys reach their career goals more quickly or change paths altogether – while still benefiting the firm. A win-win situation for the lawyer and the firm can be the ideal result with the right approach.
If a lawyer decides to leave a law firm to join a corporation as in-house counsel, that company becomes a potential new firm client if the firm’s leadership accepts the departing lawyer’s resignation with well wishes. Or, better yet, the firm assists that lawyer with his or her desired transition in-house through introductions to existing clients or by referring them to the recruiter or agency that has been their go-to provider of talent. If the departing lawyer joins one of the firm’s existing clients, there is a renewed opportunity for the firm to strengthen a business relationship. Either way, there is true appreciation from the attorney that the firm sincerely cares about his or her well-being and career satisfaction, thus further improving firm culture and maintaining a long-term relationship with the departing employee. Many law firms have adopted alumni programs for this reason as well.
At Lucas Group, we understand why in-house career counseling is not only becoming more common but also a best practice. Likewise, firms are beginning to encourage attorneys to disclose their plans or desires to transition sooner if they’re not dedicated to reaching “partner” as their final career destination.
With the assistance of a recruiter, more law firms are seeing the value in supporting talented attorneys who choose to transition to in-house roles. When handled well, the best-case scenario will allow “alumni” to continue to engage with the firm as outside counsel at an existing – or new – client.
As the General Manager for Lucas Group’s Legal Division, Steven Lynch cultivates the development and relationship management of both clients and senior-level attorneys throughout the Southeast. Lynch leads a team of branch leaders and legal recruiters who are singularly dedicated to assisting the country’s firms and companies find and hire transcendent legal talent efficiently and discreetly.