25 November 2015

Obstacles to filling in-house vacancies highlighted by annual survey

An annual survey conducted by the Association of Corporate Counsel in Washington suggests that in-house legal departments may struggle to fill vacant positions, with many candidates failing to fit the bill and low desire for lateral in-house moves.

By Kathryn Higgins


The ACC annual survey was sent out to the organisation's 40,000 members in 10,000 different companies across 85 countries. When asked about the possibility of seeking out new appointments, approximately 62 per cent of surveyed in-house lawyers said they would consider moving jobs to advance their career, even if they felt satisfied in their current position. However, only 30 per cent of respondents said that they would consider a lateral move within the in-house sector. While job satisfaction tops 80 per cent for in-house counsel in some countries, ACC vice president and chief legal officer James Merklinger has commented that the results of the survey suggest that, for many, job dissatisfaction is not sufficient motivation for in-house lawyers to consider changing jobs.

Fitting the bill

While companies offering salaries in the range of $150,000-$300,000 may have a swathe of candidates from which to choose, it is often very difficult for new lawyers to make inroads into the in-house sector. According to Mr Merklinger, those with freshly-printed law degrees often need not apply, as positions are usually filled using the existing professional networks of in-house lawyers and managers. 'It is rare but not unheard of to hire out of law school,' commented Mr Merklinger, adding that companies looking to fill in-house vacancies generally look for candidates with five-to-ten years of experience. However, even among seasoned lawyers, finding candidates with the right skill mix can be a challenge. Desirable candidates will combine strong legal and industry-specific knowledge with the ability to thrive within a business team environment, Mr Merklinger commented. Moreover, companies working in specific international contexts will also require candidates with appropriate language and cultural skills.

Searching for candidates

According to the ACC, as well as using the existing social and professional networks of attorneys already working within the company to fill in-house vacancies, management often pull talent from law firms that have previously done work for the company or enlist the help of headhunters. However, bringing in outside help to fill vacancies can be costly in more ways than one. Speaking at a panel discussion held by the South Florida Group of Regional Counsel last week, Honeywell International general counsel for Latin America Valeria Chapa Garza commented that, while using headhunters specialising in the legal sector can help target the search for new talent, it can often come at a hefty financial cost. For one recent recruitment, use of a headhunter cost Ms Garza 25 per cent of the annual salary for the position. Additionally, using headhunters can ruffle feathers among existing staff, cautioned Citi Bank America general counsel for South America Jose Martinez. 'You are sending a bad message to your team—none of you are good enough, so we're going to have to bring someone in,' he warned. Source: Daily Business Review

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