As I sat in a plush west end hotel finishing the last remnants of a pot of green tea an interesting topic arose with the general counsel I was meeting; is the buy side all it’s cracked up to be? I work with GC’s from many sectors but am most ubiquitously in contact with those in the Hedge Fund, Private Equity, Asset Management, Family Office and Sovereign Wealth space. The contact I met had worked exceptionally hard over the last year and as a senior lawyer in house the assumption is typically that those types of days should disappear as you move from your 20s/30s into your 40s and beyond up the food chain, with the bulk of the transactional work remaining with your junior counterpart(s). It led me to unfamiliar conversational territory, why a lawyer might want to avoid working for a fund completely.
Private equity, hedge funds, boutique banks and other alternative asset managers all want the very best people. If you scan the profiles of individuals employed by the majority of these organisations you will find a pattern in those they hire. Most went to elite universities before attending exclusive institutions in their respective sector before winding up where they are today. These professionals are the highest paid, the brightest and the most compelling, the top 1% of the market.
How does a fund successfully attract a candidate with that profile? In the legal world it isn’t particularly difficult to find well credentialed candidates interested in a move in house. What is hard is finding not just someone who went to a great law school and worked at the most prestigious firm but finding someone who has the right mix of experience, seniority, personality, who comes in on budget and is interested in your fund at the moment you have an opening. If you do find someone like this the chances are they are going to have other options open to them, how do you differentiate your offering to them?
Finding an in house legal role at a reputable hedge or private equity fund has not been this hard since 2009. Legal roles within funds are some of the most sought after across industry, they are the most lucrative and selective institutions that hire in house counsel. Certain asset managers and boutique banks straddle the marketplace in terms of how they operate (often taking a multi-strategy approach) and can also provide fantastic opportunities for fledgling in house lawyers.
It has never been easy to find work as a lawyer in the funds space, however a confluence of factors have materialised over the past 10 years that have made securing a coveted position more challenging than ever before.
Supply and demand; this is the broadest and most all-encompassing explanation as to why it is now more difficult to find a legal role at a top alternative asset manager.
Everybody wants to work for a fund.
If you trained and worked as an associate in “big law” with a focus on financial services the prospect of working for an investment manager one day as general counsel would most likely be an appealing proposition for a number of reasons:
1) The money at the top is similar to equity at a major firm
2) You work closely with the business instead of focusing on client attraction
3) The quality of work is often high and mentally engaging
4) It is less bureaucratic and hierarchical than big banks/law firms
5) There is less oversight and restriction on compensation than at a bank