Tight job market puts law firms in search of talent – New England In-House

Massachusetts law firms and corporate legal departments face headwinds in finding the qualified attorneys they need to fill vacancies.

Kenneth J. Albano, managing partner of Springfield-based Bacon Wilson, touts the success of the firm’s 100 lawyers and employees in navigating the past 18 months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But Albano is less satisfied with the results of his company’s recruiting efforts.

“It was a challenge to get new blood in the door,” says Albano. “And the quality of the candidates was very bad.”

A sure sign that demand has exceeded supply is that legal recruiters like Nancy Reiner say they are busier than ever trying to meet the needs of clients desperate to find the right lawyer to fill a vacant position. .

“In the fall of 2020, we started an incredible increase in searches, and it’s increasing every month,” says Reiner, who heads the in-house legal counsel recruiting division at Major, Lindsey & Africa in Boston. “I know we’ve never seen him so busy.”

Thin picks?

At the start of the pandemic, there was already a “solid” job market for lawyers – especially partners – making lateral moves as well as for in-house lawyers, according to Andre L. Campagna, senior consultant at the agency. Hill Legal Recruitment Center in Boston.

“COVID has not changed this demand,” says Campagna. “Especially in the internal life sciences space, they haven’t skipped a beat.”

The current demand for transactional lawyers – particularly at the associate level – is “off the charts,” he says.

Albano cites two recent hiring experiences as characteristics of the state of the legal labor market.

“We recently had a lawyer from New York who responded to an advertisement for a position in our sales department,” says Albano. “He works in New York but wants to move to Boston, and he thinks he could be hired by us and work remotely. It is simply not possible.

A second attempt at hiring by the Albano firm got off to a bad start but seems to have ended well, he reports.

Bacon Wilson recently made an announcement for a corporate / transactional lawyer for the firm’s Springfield office. He received “two or three” applications for the post and interviewed what appeared to be the best candidate. The lawyer accepted the firm’s job offer on a Monday, but emailed the next day to tell him he had changed his mind because he didn’t want to work in western Massachusetts .

“That’s what we’re dealing with,” says Albano. “We hired No. 2, a lawyer from the Boston / Hartford area with six or seven years of experience. He’s starting in two weeks and is excited to be working in Western Massachusetts so I think we’ve made the right decision.

According to Albano’s estimate, the chances of successfully targeting another firm’s lawyer for a lateral move with its volume of business are unrealistic in today’s market.

albano-kenneth“We’ve tried that, and they’re just not there,” he says.

But not all law firms have struggled to recruit new lawyers. Shira M. Diner says her firm, Todd & Weld, has hired and integrated four partners since the start of the pandemic.

“Our hiring is very cyclical and we had no needs at the start of the pandemic,” says Diner, director of recruiting for the Boston litigation firm. “Halfway through the pandemic, we realized we had needs and we were all curious about how it would turn out. “

Diner says the firm is looking to hire another partner, but unfortunately that process has “slowed down somewhat”, becoming more and more of a challenge.

“What we’re seeing right now is the Boston attorneys are busy, there’s a lot of work,” she said. “That, coupled with the uncertainty about the future of the public health crisis, has definitely limited the number of applicants we’ve had. I don’t think a lot of people are watching now.

Internal request

Major, Lindsey & Africa’s Reiner attributes the current demand for in-house lawyers to several factors. The first is that many job applicants are effectively locked into their current situation.

“You don’t see a lot of lawyers looking for jobs right now because they are either really paid very well or encouraged to stay. [with their current employer]”, says Reiner.

reiner-nancyA second factor is the high demand for the transactional skills that in-house lawyers bring to the table.

“Businesses grow,” says Reiner. “There are a lot more offers. There are a lot more acquisitions and mergers. Law firms are very large. Their lawyers are working like crazy. This reverberated internally. “

The third factor is the constant desire of companies to reduce their external legal costs.

“Companies know that by bringing work in-house, they can save money on outside lawyers who raise their rates,” says Reiner.

A race to the end

With fierce competition for legal talent, businesses and employers are forced to step up their game in terms of what they will offer new hires.

Unsurprisingly, a higher salary tops the list of incentives.

“It all started with increasing the remuneration of law firms to keep their associates in ‘golden handcuffs,’ says Reiner. “It flows internally.”

While allowing lawyers to work remotely became a necessity during the pandemic, Reiner says the remote work option as a perk used to attract new hires has become a reality in the legal job market in a foreseeable future.

“There are more and more applicants who are only willing to relocate if it is a remote or hybrid remote position,” she says. “When we interviewed candidates before, this never happened, or very rarely. Now, I can’t think of being on appeal with a candidate where they’re not asking if there’s a remote or hybrid option – like coming into the office just three days a week. Higher pay and remote work are the two big things candidates are looking for. “

But the desire to work remotely varies from lawyer to lawyer, according to Scott D. Burke, managing partner of Boston-based civil litigation firm Morrison Mahoney.

“Lawyers who don’t have a good workspace at home or who just prefer to do their job in a work environment, they are clamoring to come into the office,” says Burke. “In a litigation firm like ours, the presence of team members is very important for mentoring and knowledge sharing.

Campagna says remote working is a problem in large part because of the tight legal job market.

“Now it’s a retention or attraction tool [for employers], says Campagna. “What concerns me is that young lawyers are shaped by a lot of face-to-face interactions. What happens to this quality of work and development without this in-person interaction? “

Campagna may see the remote working model rejected by law firms if, after two or three years, it is determined that it has delayed the development of partners.

“Remote work worked because we had no choice, we had to make it work,” he says. “That doesn’t mean it’s the best model.”

Meanwhile, Reiner tells her clients that it typically takes around two months from the day she launches a job search to the day the candidate signs the client’s job posting.

“Sometimes it takes a little longer because it’s so competitive right now,” says Reiner. “We see candidates receiving two to three offers at the same time. We have to go faster than usual because we have to reach the candidates before someone else does. “

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