The In-House Position Maze

Attorneys have traditionally gone in-house by accepting an offer from one of their clients (or a client of their firm). Nevertheless, unless specifically asked by a client to work for them, through traditional methods of searching for an in-house position you might be out of luck. If you were to ask one of your firm's clients if you can work for them, how does that make your current firm look? What if your request gets back to your current law firm?

A few attorneys get in-house positions by responding to ads on job posting boards or in classified sections of legal newspapers. The problem with job posting boards and legal classifieds is that most in-house employers posting positions in this way receive well in excess of 1,000 e-mailed resumes in response to their ads. In-house employers are simply flooded with resumes of top attorneys seeking a better lifestyle, more predictable hours and no billable hour requirements. Indeed, many attorneys inside law firms have been looking for a position in-house for years as it is perceived by many to be a haven for attorneys who no longer want to deal with the stress of a firm. For some attorneys who practiced in law firms before going in house, this has proven to be the case.

Probably the least common way for attorneys to get an in-house position is through a legal recruiting firm. The legal recruiting firm typically conducts an in-house search as follows:

  • First, the recruiter "cold calls" numerous General Counsels or corporate officers to persuade them to allow the recruiter to fill an opening. More often than not, the recruiter demands a meeting and goes to the meeting with brochures and other propaganda about the search firm. The General Counsel will then speak with other search firms to negotiate fees before choosing a search firm. The few national search firms that do in-house searches typically have a dedicated recruiter that spends their days soliciting companies for in-house opportunities (and potential placement fees).
  • Second, most of the time the recruiter will demand an "exclusive" from the company to perform the in-house search. By an exclusive, the recruiter will seek to prohibit the company from using any outside sources to fill the position for a minimum length of time (usually six months to a year). When granted an "exclusive," recruiters also require the corporation to forward to them all resumes they receive for the attorney position for the length of the exclusive. Because recruiters want to use the name of the company in advertising the company's position, candidates are prevented from contacting the company directly (in which event the company would not have to pay the recruiter any fees).
  • Third, the recruiter will typically demand that the company pay them a "retainer". The "retainer" is generally set at between 1/3 and 1/2 of the placement firm's expected placement fee. Attorney placement firms typically charge corporations and other employers a fee to introduce you to the employer that is between 25 and 40% of your annual salary. The "retainer fee" is used by the placement firm to pay for advertising and other incidental expenses associated with finding candidates for the position. For example, if a recruiting firm receives a $15,000 retainer they may (1) pay $5,000 to the recruiter who "brought in" the in house job (the recruiter who fills the position itself will be compensated individually out of the 25-40% fee which deducts the retainer), (2) spend $5,000 on advertising and (3) keep $5,000 to cover the overhead associated with the work they did on the search.

Just like employers, when a placement firm places an ad for an in-house position, they typically receive hundreds, or even thousands, of inquiries-that is why their advertising budgets are so high. Out of what is often well in excess of 1,000 inquiries (and sometimes a multiple of that in larger cities), the placement firm will very quickly whittle down the inquiries to less than 10 candidates to introduce to the corporation. A placement will then hopefully be made.

As you can see, from a recruiter's standpoint, the beauty of doing in-house placements is that they very quickly provide them with hundreds of candidates they know are interested in alternative employment. Accordingly, while the recruiter will rarely have suitable in-house positions for these attorneys, there are far more potential law firm opportunities than in-house opportunities, and the recruiter will attempt to interest candidates in law firm positions-even if they do not want to go to another law firm.