Companies often call us up with their specifications for in-house legal posts, and this invariably involves a little bit of negotiation on what is essential and what is desirable. Quite often companies start with the idea that certain particulars are essential, but after reviewing CVs for a little while, realise that actually a lot of their initial requirements are more desirable than essential and will consider a wider field.
A very common starting point is the requirement for experience in a particular industry.
We very often get requests for commercial interim lawyers to join in-house legal departments to work on commercial contracts – reviewing, drafting and negotiating. I can almost guarantee that in the vast majority of cases the in-house legal department will start with the requirement that an interim lawyer has specific experience in their sector in order to be considered for the role. This is regardless of whether the contracts are of a certain type, e.g. supplier or customer related etc. It does not matter if we have somebody with 30 years solid commercial contract experience in a wide range of industries, if they have not got the experience in the specific sector the company work in they will not be considered.
It is important for in-house legal departments to think very carefully on this before making this specification. If you are in the fashion industry do you really need a solicitor who has worked with fashion industry clients before? What difference does it make if a solicitor has worked for media clients say, or banking clients if the contracts you are negotiating are virtually identical but just relating to a different field? Is there anything in the contracts that is specific to the fashion industry that an experience interim lawyer is not going to be able to assist you with? In most cases I would suggest that you really do not need specific industry experience, but rather an interim lawyer or solicitor (if this is permanent) with extensive related experience. So if you are working on a large regulatory and compliance project and need an extra pair of hands, you probably are better looking at an experienced regulatory interim lawyer or solicitor rather than a regulatory solicitor specifically with fashion industry experience (using the example above).
The market for in-house lawyers is a fairly small one, with most solicitors and barristers training in private practice law firms or chambers, and not that many specifically working in any particular sector. In private practice most solicitors work for a range of clients and it is rare to find someone who has worked in one specific sector for a particular length of time. It is very common to find a solicitor with specific experience of a certain field of law, or a type of process, e.g. transactional work or a certain level of litigation if contentious.
We often get calls from in-house legal departments wanting locum or interim paralegals to come in and work in their department because they think for some reason that a) solicitors cost more, b) there is regulation restricting their work, and c) they stand a lot better chance finding a paralegal than they do a solicitor. This is all incorrect and based probably on internet research into how much a commercial solicitor earns. If you have a look at rollonfriday.com and the amount that commercial corporate solicitors earn, then yes you probably are thinking that solicitors are very expensive and you would be better finding a paralegal or non-qualified lawyer to do your work.
Unfortunately the vast majority of interim lawyers are qualified lawyers, but fortunately they do not cost as much as you may think. Paralegals invariably tend to be looking for permanent work. Anyone can call themselves a paralegal and if you advertise a job for an in-house paralegal you will be inundated with a load of irrelevant and pretty useless applications. If you advertise for a solicitor you will get a good level of experience, and usually a range of options from people with the correct experience. Hourly rates can be as low as £35 an hour for a commercial solicitor working in-house. There really is not much difference when you take a non-qualified or qualified because for locum work the hourly rate tends to be set by the level of experience. So for example if you have a paralegal with 5 years experience working as a commercial contracts lawyer, then it is highly likely that the rate you will be paying them would be very similar to the rate charged by a solicitor.
So our recommendation in terms of qualifications for interim lawyer or in-house legal posts is don’t get hung up on the qualifications but look more at experience. There are a large number of in-house lawyers who have no qualifications at all and have based their entire career on their level of experience. They may have begun to get legal executive qualifications a long time ago but never actually needed to complete the process. In terms of regulation, using a solicitor is not particularly onerous.
The only time that practising certificates and insurance become an issue is if you have an in-house solicitor advising members of the public. The overwhelming majority of in-house legal departments and in-house legal work, interim lawyers and solicitors do not have any requirements at all in relation to professional indemnity insurance and practising certificates. If there is any doubt on this we advise speaking to the Solicitors Regulation Authority, or look on The Law Society website at the in-house legal section’s FAQs. It is not normally, however, an issue.
We often get asked by in-house legal departments for a lawyer to join them, whether on a permanent or interim basis, for the requirement that the candidates reside within a 30 mile radius of the company offices. HR departments seem to be obsessed with this at the moment and seem to think that this increased productivity if somebody lives locally, and it’s a better way to look at recruitment.
Unfortunately in today’s world this is turning into an impossibility, because there are areas of the country where most people cannot afford to live within 30 miles of their place of work, and lengthy commutes are essential. Furthermore, if you use the services of an interim lawyer or locum solicitor, they are very used to long commutes for a short period of time or residing locally whilst the assignment is ongoing. This is extremely common and most if not all lawyers expect to do this.
Do not try to put any geographic restrictions on candidates to start the process. Look at each application on its merits and then consider accordingly. By all means ask the locum agency or recruitment consultants to clarify with the candidate how they intend to deal with the commute or the location, but do not discount candidates on this basis from the outset. So many in-house departments seem to do this it is worth us advising to be cautious.
Quite a lot of candidates get discounted for in-house legal jobs because they have come from a private practice background. Same applies vice versa for private practice vacancies, whereby law firms will not consider in-house lawyers for particular roles. I can understand this from both sides because taking on in-house lawyers in private practice could be difficult because private practice is operated to make a profit, and in-house legal departments operate to ultimately save companies money. They are, invariably, two different mentalities, but again if you have a vacancy you are struggling to fill we would suggest you do consider private practice solicitors, because at best there tends to be very little difference in terms of quality. Private practice solicitors view in-house legal work as greener grass because they perceive the hours to be shorter and the pressures to be lower due to the removal of the requirement to generate billable hours of work.
There are a whole host of other requirements that start off as essential when firms contact us, but actually when firms think about it they are probably not and more desirable. It is desirable for a candidate to live within 25 miles of a company’s headquarters, it is desirable for a company to recruit a paralegal, and it is desirable for a candidate to have in-house legal experience in a specific sector related to the company recruiting. However if you are too specific with your requirements it will lead to a tight narrowing of the field, and also candidates obtaining roles who are probably not suited at all other than the fact they live locally, have worked in your sector and hold the right level of qualification.