The Battle for Talent in the Legal Market

Written by
Ron Friedmann
Prism Legal

Published
Jan 25, 2019

Jan 25, 2019 • by Ron Friedmann

A battle is underway for talent in the legal market. I started drafting this post a few days ago and just now read an article from this morning, Casey Flaherty, Jae Um Join Baker McKenzie’s Innovation Team.

Before I turn to the battle for legal talent, congratulations to Jae and Casey and to David Cambria, who made waves when he joined Baker McKenzie to run legal service delivery from his legal ops perch. (Preceding links are to Twitter handles.) All are well-known thought leaders and capable individuals. Jae has written extensively and deeply on law firm innovation and legal business. Casey has battled tirelessly to improve lawyer efficiency. Baker McKenzie has assembled a dream team for legal service delivery so it also deserves congratulations.

Let’s turn now to the the multiple battles for talent in the legal market. We read regularly about the battle to hire fresh legal talent from law school. What else explains the recent bump in first year associate salaries. Whether law school rank and grades are a proxy for legal talent is irrelevant here. Law firms clearly treat that battle as one for legal talent.

But law firms seek more than just legal talent. The battle for lateral partner talent garners – for now – the most press. Query if that is legal talent war or just a battle for rainmakers? Rhetorical question. Of course firms seek rainmakers and rainmaking correlates with legal talent. But that rainmaking reigns (so to speak) supreme proves that the market cares more than just about legal talent.

The rise of CLOC fuels the battle for talent that complements lawyers. Many legal operations professionals, whether trained in law or business, focus on improving internal service delivery.

Mark Cohen, at his Legal Mosaic blog, writes regularly about the distinction between law practice and legal service delivery. The latter takes a wide range of skills, well beyond the JD. He has clearly articulated the growing shift from law practice to legal service delivery, and the implications that flow from that.

For evidence that the battle for legal service delivery talent has gotten hot, consider the large number of US, UK, Australian, and Canadian law firms that have hired or appointed internally individuals or teams to run innovation. Before today, the most recent big headline I remember unprompted is some recent news from the last couple of years Clifford Chance hiring veteran legal tech entrepreneur Jeroen Plink to run its new Applied Solutions group.

I close with a question. Large law firms seem endlessly fascinated by lateral lawyer moves. Why else all the digital ink, including league tables. Perhaps the Baker McKenzie move today highlights the need for a new league table: legal service delivery senior hires. Clients likely will find that as interesting, if not more so, than lateral partners.


End Notes:

  • Less noticed and remarked is that law firms have long engaged in battles for seasoned executives to run the business. By 2000, most firms understood the need for serious professionals to head IT, marketing, finance, HR, and other staff functions.
  • Chief Knowledge Officers (CKO) are the one long-standing C-level hire focused more on legal service delivery than running the law firm business. I know from work I did as a consultant that the CKO market has also gotten hot.
  • For the record, that battle for legal service delivery talent began some time ago. Consider, for example, Bill Henderson’s February 2016 article The Most Prized Lateral of 2015 Wasn’t a Partner (American Lawyer) or my 2016 post, The Future of Legal Talent – Not Lawyers? Today’s headline serves as a wake up call for those who’ve missed the trend

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