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How to Hire the Best In-House Counsel

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on November 05, 2015 12:31 PM

Your company is growing and the legal department needs to expand to keep pace. Or perhaps you're one of the 20 percent of in-house lawyers who work solo and it's time you got some company. Whatever the case, you're looking to hire.

But finding the right candidate takes more than just posting a listing on a recruiting website. Here are some tips to help guide you through the process.

1. Generalist or Specialist?

To get the best match, you need a clear understanding of the legal issues a new hire will be responsible for. The smaller the legal department, the more likely you'll want a skilled generalist, someone with a broad body of experience who can handle everything from employee contracts to regulatory filings. In such cases, look for someone whose particular skills will help compliment the abilities of your current talent.

Conversely, larger legal departments may need someone with more specialized skills. If you've been having outside counsel deal with your tax, securities, or labor issues, bringing in an in-house specialist can help reduce those legal expenses.

2. Experience Helps, but Costs

Everyone wants in-house lawyers with in-house experience. Experience working in a corporate setting shows that attorneys can work closely with managers, can find business solutions, and has experience controlling costs, instead of just racking up billable hours. But experience is expensive. In-house counsel with ten or more years of experience make between $126,250 a year (the low end, at a small company) and $251,500 (the high end at a large corporate legal department), according to Robert Half Legal's 2016 Salary Guide. In-house attorneys with just three years of experience or less earn a comparatively affordable $81,500 to $156,500.

3. Highlight Non-Salary Perks

This shouldn't come as a surprise, but job seekers are driven by more than just salary. In fact, average salary plays only a small role in attracting candidates, according to a review by Indeed, the job searching website.

Attorneys, in particular, are drawn to in-house positions because they view them as more desirable, but not better paying: they offer better hours, a different work style, the ability to be involved in business. Those are all features you can use to lure in candidates. And that shouldn't be too hard, either. The same Indeed report found that, while attorneys have the second highest average salary, legal jobs have "a desirability well below that this salary would predict." Consider taking advantage of some attorney discontent by bringing talented outside lawyers in house.

FindLaw has an affiliate relationship with Indeed, earning a small amount of money each time someone uses Indeed's services via FindLaw. FindLaw receives no compensation in exchange for editorial coverage.

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