Staffing Your Corporate Legal Department

A Peek into How Fortune 500 Companies Staff their Legal Teams for Growth

Have you ever wanted to peel back the curtain to see how corporations build their legal departments, develop strategy, and source In-house counsel? A recent Leopard Solutions webinar did just that by presenting data that illuminated movements both in and out of In-house companies. Guest panelist Claudia Sacks Schumer, Leadership Recruiter of Meta, shared her experiences in legal staffing, building a recruitment team and hunting passive candidates. James Gross, Solutions Consultant from The Cluen Corporation, shared thoughts on the need for a custom CRM designed to meet the needs of space. View the entire Leopard Solutions webinar here.

Rapid Expansion Requires Sizable Legal Staffing – Internal and External

Ms. Schumer gave fascinating insights into how the legal recruitment function at a FAANG (five prominent American technology companies: Meta (META) (formerly known as Facebook), Amazon (AMZN), Apple (AAPL), Netflix (NFLX); and Alphabet (GOOG) (formerly known as Google)) operates, and how these large corporations conduct their law department staffing. “Every time you see Meta’s employee numbers grow, their legal department grows. Every time you see a new app, a new product being rolled out by Meta, there is a new group of lawyers needed as it is a new set of legal related issues and problems that need to be addressed.” She said that in her time at Meta, the legal department has doubled in size. 

Meta employs a sizable legal team with a sizable outside counsel budget, and they are always in need of people who can handle the work. Claudia confirmed the report derived from data in Leopard’s In-house Counsel database that litigation is the practice area most in demand for in-house counsel when hiring from law firms. Meta’s hiring aligns with Leopard Solutions data, showing that the practice area most often recruited by In-house companies is litigation. 

Litigators Wanted

Ms. Schumer stated that ‘corporate’ opportunities were few and far between because people tended to be less transient in those highly coveted roles. Meta’s need for litigators is interesting. As a tech company that deals with new issues regularly, they must be prepared. “I would say the need for litigators, especially from a preemptive standpoint, is incredibly important because we are a company that focuses a lot on privacy by design, and we are looking forward to seeing what the problems will be, and you need people with a legal mind to be a partner in that process.”

Here, we are looking at the practice area held by the attorney when they left their Top 200 firm. It will give us some insight into their talents and capabilities. Those with litigation practice have increasingly moved into in-house over the years. Those with Corporate Practice have decreased. The percentages with a Banking, Bankruptcy, and Real estate background have remained rock steady all three years.) 

Actively Recruiting Passive Candidates

Recruiters at Meta typically focus on trying to lure passive candidates, as the applications that come through job posting portals often need more qualified individuals. “The thing that most people don’t realize is that we are primarily searching for passive candidates,” Claudia noted they usually hire from other companies’ In-house departments and the government for obvious reasons. They have lawyers from the DOJ (Department of Justice), the government, former government prosecutors, cyber security experts, and more. When looking for litigators, they most often look at law firms. She finds that many mid-career attorneys in law firms are in ‘golden handcuffs’ and could be wooed away by a company that offers more flexibility and might offer a better quality of life.

Legal Hiring Cost Effectively

She also talked about the simple math that can spur their in-house hiring. “It is a lot cheaper to bring in a great in-house attorney than billing them out for $1,000 an hour every day. It is just more cost-efficient.” The attorneys from law firms generally need more managerial experience; even those who run departments tend never to manage people, but in her view, that trait doesn’t dim the upside of hiring them for a preemptive litigation spot or managing litigation spending.

• DEI (Diversity, Equity & Inclusivity)
• Business Connections
• Effective Communications
• Connections to Subject Matter Experts
• Providing Practical Solutions and Advice
• True Partnership, not just Running the Meter
• Outside Counsel Needs to Provide Practical, Business-oriented Advice

We see that responsiveness and legal expertise are top priorities. Still, in comments, respondents also shared that commitment to diversity is essential, as is receiving practical business advice and seeing their counsel as a ‘partner’ in what they do.

An Innovative Approach to Hiring

Ms. Schumer further peeled back the curtain on the tech behemoth’s hiring process. The format consists of structured interviews led by a panel of cross-functional leaders. Given that candidates who have reached this stage are all qualified, the questions are much more specific. They are designed to test one’s analytical chops and ability to think strategically and lead. They are also geared toward eliminating biases because they are conducted by a committee, rather than an individual, that then convenes to discuss. It makes for a better experience for the candidate as well since they will not have to rehash their credentials to multiple waves of interviewers. Meta does not use outside recruiters since they have gone to lengths to build out their internal team on account of a rapidly growing legal side. While all role openings are posted, receiving a “Meta Mate” referral from a current employee will, at the very least, get you in the door.

Preferred Destination for Mid-Career Attorneys

The conversation pivoted to the reasons why a lawyer might want to make a move in-house. One of the big reasons frequently cited is work-life balance. Another involved the proverbial mid-career golden handcuffs mentioned earlier, which are financial incentives given to employees to discourage them from leaving a company. To paraphrase: you get to the mid-point of your career, and you are on the partnership track, but with no discernable end in sight and not making a lot in the near term. Career growth at law firms can be elusive, while companies provide more avenues to develop. There is also something to be said about only working for one client instead of numerous. Once again, our data was in alignment with the anecdotal evidence.

How important is the opportunity for advancement? When looking just at those who cited dissatisfaction with advancement opportunities, only 43%, a full 9% less than the general sample, stated firmly that they would not return to a law firm, 17 percent (6% more) said they would return to a law firm, and 39% would consider it.

The Need for Customized Tech

The session concluded by addressing challenges faced in the recruitment process. Meta is a highly scrutinized and, therefore, heavily compliant company, as secure as can be, which can present challenges when it comes to pursuing prospective hires. For example, their proprietary CRM is not designed with legal hires in mind and does not “speak the language.” The system was principally built for privacy matters, and the tech problems faced today did not exist in the early days. Their legal department has grown exponentially, at a rate not initially conceived.

Selling the Lifestyle

James Gross (Cluen) also mentioned the need for a secure database and different ways to leverage the data. Managing relationships and building deeper profiles, which include key differentiation data, can help cultivate talent over time. “You know who they know and your history with them so that you can build the best rapport possible with those superstar candidates.”

Claudia explained that Meta’s needs are constantly evolving, and therefore, their legal needs are also. “With every new app or product comes a new set of problems and the need for people with legal minds.” Practically speaking, post-pandemic location has also factored into how recruiters pitch jobs to prospective hires. Gone are the days when litigators spent their hours in courtrooms, and companies have been quicker to adopt more flexible office models than their law firm counterparts. Lawyers are beginning to find these more agile work environments quite desirable. She believes there are two paths and only a few other options for you to grow and develop in a law firm. She believes that companies offer that opportunity in general. She sees the chance for better career satisfaction where you are fully invested in your one client. “You get to see the fruits of your labor. You get to see it at the end of the day. I know my husband is a litigator, and people only call them when there’s a problem.”

“I’ve never been at a company where there wasn’t something to complain about with the CRM.”
MLA Compensation Survey

Only 12% of attorneys in our survey were making over $500,000 for their all-in compensation. 

Some pay disparity could be in play here. The largest share of respondents worked at companies with revenue over one billion; 34% were GCs (General Counsels) or CLOs (Chief Legal Officers), yet their pay seems less than it should be.

As technology advances at a rapid pace, new legal challenges will emerge from previously unforeseen corners, resulting in the need for In-house departments to pursue more specialized hiring, making it necessary for recruiters to be armed with data and tools that will aid in analyzing a complex market, identifying efficiencies, and streamlining workflow. Meanwhile, the prospect of going in-house continues to evolve into a desirable alternative to the rigors of Big Law for lawyers. Particularly those seeking to strike a balance between work and family life, or as Claudia succinctly put it, it’s more of a team environment. “When you’re an attorney, and you’ve got a caseload, and you’re sick or your kids sick, there’s nobody to catch you when you fall. And being at a company does provide that cushion to fall back on.”

Leopard Solutions has the most in-depth and accurate database of thousands of top law firms and attorneys throughout the U.S. and globally that users can access via Leopard List. To learn more about the Leopard list, contact the Leopard Solutions team here.

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