2021 has been an unprecedented year in the legal industry. While firms were cautious during the first part of Covid, they emerged late last fall and into 2021 with a boom in legal work and a serious need for more lawyers to do that work.

Client demand led to a boom in legal hiring unlike anything we’ve ever seen. Law firms and corporations are struggling to keep up with demand for lawyers and competing with one another for talent.

As a result, understanding the needs and wants of in-house counsel has never been more important to law firms to retain and attract client work.

Further, with talent at a premium due to a surge in legal work, knowing what drives a lawyer to go in-house enables law firms of all sizes to better understand how culture, work-life balance and salary can impact their retention.

I recently moderated a panel of in-house lawyers who discussed the findings of the 2021 Leopard Solutions In-House Counsel survey. The survey (and our webinar) explored:

  • why lawyers go in-house
  • their criteria for satisfaction in an in-house role
  • what is most important to in-house counsel in terms of hiring outside counsel
  • what types of marketing resonates most with in-house counsel

The survey also contains insights from Leopard Solutions’ market insights that tracks over 75,000 corporate attorneys at more than 4,200 firms

Key highlights from the survey:

  • Leopard Solutions polled 202 in-house attorneys working for companies in 17 different industries, with those in financial services, pharmaceuticals, health care, manufacturing and technology accounting for nearly two-thirds of respondents, according to the report. Nearly two-thirds also said their companies have annual revenue of over $1 billion.
  • While some attorneys reported beginning to work for a company right after graduating from law school, the highest number made the jump seven years after obtaining their degrees, suggesting that by that point, lawyers either anticipate that they will not become partners or they think that switching to an in-house role will allow them to maintain a better work-life balance.
  • Based on respondent data, there’s significant staying power for in-house attorneys. 41% reported a tenure of 10 or more years with their current organization.
  • Only 12% of all respondents said they would definitely consider returning to a law firm again.
  • Just 2% of ethnically diverse attorneys said they would definitely consider returning to a law firm environment.
  • Nearly 60% of participants were satisfied with their work-life balance, and 75% felt that their organizations invest interest in their professional development.
  • Fifty percent of in-house counsel surveyed firmly state that they would not return to a law firm environment.
  • 70.5% indicated little to no change in the demand for outside counsel, 7.5% have seen a decrease in demand since the pandemic and 22% have noticed an increase in demand for outside service since the pandemic began.
  • Based on respondent answers, the primary needs of the in-house counsel have been litigation (51.53%) and corporate/general business law (19.39%).
  • When choosing outside counsel, respondents noted qualities such as rapport, diversity, compatible work styles, expertise, value, size, the quality of the work and responsiveness as important factors.
  • In-house counsel want their outside counsel to provide value when marketing to them. They are less interested in receiving a press release and more interested in topical webinars. Client dinners and lunches are also important business development tools.

So what does this mean for law firms?

  • Law firms should be constantly looking for opportunities to add value to clients and potential client relationships.
  • Seek out ways to become their go-to source of information and counsel.
  • Anticipate their needs and speak to them in their language.
  • Make your clients look good at all times.
  • Focus more on offering topical webinars and valuable and meaningful content, and less on blanketing them with news releases
  • Consider a “reverse secondment” which is something we talked about on the webinar where you embed an in-house lawyer at your firm – it’s a win-win for all involved.
  • If your lawyers want to go in-house, help them do it – they can then hire you down the road.
  • Offer professional development opportunities to your lawyers from the very beginning of their tenure with you and help them develop business-related and client development skills.

Watch a reply of the webinar.

Download the survey.