The month’s Council of Luminaries Joint meeting kicked off with a discussion around finding talent and how secondments are bridging the gap for many. This led to a discussion about diversity within teams and work-life balance.
Client Luminary 1 – On the last client-side call, we got into a long discussion about struggles to fill open roles. Then we asked how we could partner together with firms to help us with our needs. I also linked to Legal Innovators, which may be a better model for law firms. https://www.legal-innovators.com
Client Luminary 2 – Every candidate wants to work remotely now
Client Luminary 1 – We all view our firms as a talent pipeline
Client Luminary 3 – what happens when your clients mention to you that they are struggling to find people to do their work?
Law Firm Luminary 1 – We just kicked off a secondment; we had to go and find and hire 2 people to second them. There are some examples where we are providing an outsourced capability on a temporary basis. The reality we face is that we are struggling to find and hire people as well. We are often at capacity or over capacity – there isn’t an ability to say we can take that work.
Law Firm Luminary 2 – I concur, and our requests for secondments are off the chart. We are trying to be a good partner, but for us it’s in the privacy space, which is super high demand across the board. We even explored a partnership with an ALSP, to take their people and second them in. But we’d have law firm people placing people they’ve never met and placing them inside a client. In one case we just connected the client with the ALSP. I’ve even had a request to second an operations role.
Law Firm Luminary 2 – Is there also an increase in demand to find ops talent.
Client Luminary 1 – Yes, across the board. There is an idea we are all in a real crunch for talent right now. While we have a big need for secondments now. But that’s not solving the overall issue. These temp people may not be hitting all the marks.
Client Luminary 4 – Secondments are a stopgap. But what about when clients try to poach from their firm?
Law Firm Luminary 2 – First, I don’t see secondments as profitable, they are usually money losers. And we are putting ourselves at risk of the law department hiring our people.
Client Luminary 3 – Does it make sense to just direct the secondment request to the ALSP. Have you tried that? What happened?
Law Firm Luminary 2 – I generally see secondments as an upside, just not in this market. But our partners were hesitant to work with the ALSP. And the client was still thoughtful, but they did bring in some people.
Client Luminary 5 – We’ve been bringing in people from Elevate, Axiom, etc. But those organizations are struggling to find talent too.
Client Luminary 6 – I find secondments annoying. I know why they happen. Unless it’s a poaching situation, it’s a big waste of our time. For the roles where someone’s on leave and we need to keep things going, that’s fine. But for important work, it’s training and getting them up to speed. We end up investing time, then they leave. Or you don’t invest time and they end up doing grunt work and have a bad experience. I’d love to see a different secondment model, like “try before you buy.” I wish everyone could be more upfront about that.
Client Luminary 5 – For us, we are often getting secondees, but at a premium. Firms are basically indicating that the loss of profitability is not worth the time. We are in a market where we took a year off from hiring talent. So we have two years worth of normal hiring to do in one year. And the competitiveness is continuing to spin. With ops people at least, we are trying to be patient that things will normalize. We don’t want to panic about a shortage of talent now.
Law Firm Luminary 2 – I think it’s a longer-term issue on the professional services side. Our firm, like a lot of firms, is coming to realize that legal assistants were generalists, and we need specialists to support practices and clients. So we have a client relationship group whose role is expanding. And that talent actually doesn’t exist. We have to build it. As firm shift from to specialist roles, this will continue.
Client Luminary 4 – With all the pressure to build diverse teams, what happens if you second someone, and then you can’t put them on teams for other clients? Is that also a concern if you don’t have diverse staff to put on other projects?
Law Firm Luminary 2 – You absolutely have to weigh this. It’s my view that if all clients were asking for diversity like our more sophisticated clients do, there’s not enough.
Client Luminary 7 – Have you partnered with minority-owned firms. It works in RFPs, but what about for this type of request?
Law Firm Luminary 2 – We haven’t targeted in that way, but it’s definitely something we think about when we are looking to acquire firms.
Client Luminary 4 – I’d be receptive if I heard “we have a diverse candidate from our partner firm.”
Law Firm Luminary 2 – I’m going to ask Client Luminary 1 what her reaction would be. What would you think if we were reporting third-party lawyers?
Client Luminary 1 – No, our metrics are tracking full-time lawyers. But we’d appreciate the introduction. But those types of arrangements have to be entered into with sensitivity those are firms that stand on their own merits. We have our own book of minority and women-owned firms. We’ve done a lot to really try to foster those relationships. And they can be additive to our big law firms, but don’t necessarily play in the same place.
Client Luminary 3 – Maybe this more sense in an RFP than in an emergent situation.
Client Luminary 1 – When I was at a law firm, we once lost to a big, expensive firm that offered a Black-owned firm to run the day-to-day, but to be there as a big firm for when it’s necessary. That seemed to be a great way to meet the requirements. But I haven’t seen it in house.
Client Luminary 4 – To in-house people, would that appeal to you? Or would you be critical that the firm didn’t solve it themselves?
Client Luminary 8 – We would just go to our own list of minority firms we’ve created. But sometimes we will ask national counsel to look for diverse local counsel.
Client Luminary 3 – What about work/life balance as an issue. One of the luminaries on the last client-side call mentioned that workloads are getting so high in-house, and with everyone everywhere working remotely, there’s not much difference between in-house and at a firm. So some people are just going to firms to work just as hard for more money.
Client Luminary 2 – We are also pushing people to be more systematic, but that can make them feel like a cog in a wheel.
Client Luminary 4 – We have Service Now. I feel like I’m working at an IT help desk. Do you think work/life balance at firms has improved?
Law Firm Luminary 1 – My brother works for a big bank. There are pressures to return to office, but people by and large like the remote work arrangements. Firms have had to figure out how to make that work. I agree there’s not much different between working in-house vs. a firm anymore. It’s the same pressure to get work done across your clients is still there at both sides. The days are just as long – because you can’t get away from the computer. But you also have a lot more flexibility. But at firms it’s not much different than it was before.
Client Luminary 1 - I would just say that it depends on the area or practice team. To the earlier point about not hiring for a year and then catching up, just have teams that are short-staffed. Those that are leaving are going to other corporates, not firms though.
Client Luminary 2 – What about non-partner track? Has that helped people go back to law firms?
Law Firm Luminary 1 – it’s still a question of how do we train. And how do we maintain the identity of the firm. So many people don’t want to go back to the office. For example, we’ve allowed our legal billers to never come in. That’s what they want, and we are fine with it. The pressures in companies are very similar at this point to those at a law firm.
Law Firm Luminary 3 – I agree with a lot of what Law Firm Luminary 1 said. I don’t think work/life balance has shifted. People are always busy before and they are now. In-house teams are stretched thin, but so are firms. We’re all working hard. Some firms have made it necessary to come back. At our firm, managers have been able to decide how much.
One last thing, on the composition of timekeepers, the lawyers are all crazy busy, but it can provide a business case that they don’t have a lot of people who want to be on the partner track, but there are people who want to do legal work. These supplemental resources are useful.
Client Luminary 2 – Are corporate attorneys actually going to law firms? In my experience they are going to other corporations.
Client Luminary 1 – That’s been my experience, too.
Law Firm Luminary 1 – We are constantly looking for people. A lot of them over the past 15 months have come from in-house roles.
Client Luminary 2 – Merit increase possibilities, etc., have gone down in-house and first year attorneys have make more $$.
Client Luminary 3 – Are we seeing any innovations to alleviate this stress?
Law Firm Luminary 3 – We are asking what productivity tools can be used. If you can get 30% more productivity, and you won’t have people working 18-hour days. I work with our innovation team all the time. We are trying to promote it in-house.
Client Luminary 4 – Are you seeing more adoption or consideration, given the talent shortage.
Law Firm Luminary 1 – I’m also CINO, and we are seeing more adoption and consideration. Demand is outstripping supply. That’s my most common response: These things do take some time to implement. There’s also change management. We’re going full bore on that.
Client Luminary 4 – Possible topic for next time: Is the grass actually greener on the other side?