It is best to begin by looking at the results you want to achieve. The two most desirable outcomes for all in house legal functions are to effectively serve their customer, ‘the business’ and reduce the total expenditure on legal while still providing that great service. Maximising the resources you have in place and developing a talent roadmap is essential to delivering on both the first and second objective.
Substantial in house legal functions usually take on a layered pyramid structure with the Group General Counsel at the top. Then one or more Deputy General Counsel below some may be based at headquarters, others leading regions of importance; EMEA or APAC or perhaps overseeing functional areas such as corporate or IP. Below these divisional heads you will find a series of further layered mini-pyramids, extending down and out to define the foundation of the department.
Lawyers are accustomed to planning their careers years in advance from an early age. You go to law school and apply for summer schemes or training contracts when you are still early on in your academic career, in the UK you might be as young as 18 years old when applying for your first taste of summer at a law firm. Along the way though all the planning: which firm? what practice area? Is replaced by a myriad of requests on your time and you find work and life takes you in directions you won’t have necessarily planned for. As a head hunter with a breadth of experience placing qualified lawyers from 1st year associate through to General Counsel (GC) across EMEA I am often asked by my network “how do I make GC?”.
The textbook says you need: good academics, solid law firm training and a good chunk of experience (time served) in your desired field. This is largely true, if you took a cross section of GC’s from various industries this pattern holds. What the above doesn’t tell you is how to put these raw ingredients together to achieve your desired result or what to do when you are thrown off course.
How do you extract the most value from an executive search partner?
The cost of a retained search service adds up; typically coming in at 1/3 of hired candidates total first year compensation paid over three instalments. Given this fact it is essential hiring managers maximise their search providers utility to deliver the hire they want at the appropriate time and on budget.
Having worked in both the recruitment and executive search space over the past 14 years for leading providers I understand the challenges clients face in getting the best ROI. Outlined below is an insider’s view on some of the best proactive actions for you to take and common mistakes to be avoided to maximise value from the search service.
General Counsel and business leaders alike universally have a view on what makes a good lawyer, however many struggle to find the right one for their company when the need arises.
The main mistake businesses make when looking to fill a vacancy can be encapsulated in the apples and oranges approach; “we never use recruiters, we advertise all open roles ourselves”. Leaving aside the veracity of the statement it neatly illustrates the misconception that a one-size fits all approach to hiring works, it doesn’t. What works for hiring IT professionals probably won’t work for lawyers, yes, they are both metaphorical fruit but no they are not the same.
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.
If you are a lawyer reading this now the chances are you have been working hard for a long time. It isn’t easy to become a lawyer, it takes time, persistence, academic intelligence and finance, what’s more in most cases you have to decide and commit to it by the time you are only 19 or 20 years old.
You can’t ever relax and check out even as a university fresher if you want to be in big law. Forget first year pass / fail, all your academics will be scrutinised and if you aren’t on top of your game someone else will be there ready to take your spot. Now we could put this down to population increase and globalisation making markets more competitive, after all this is the case in a lot of fields now at entry level. As a lawyer the treadmill of hard work, time and devotion doesn’t end at the offer of a training contract, it is only just beginning.
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