Specialists in Highest Demand

We feature John Albright in this issue’s General Counsel profile. I was in the audience on Sept. 12 when John participated in an “Institute for the Future of Law” panel discussion on law department talent.

The discussion focused on the skills lawyers need to develop for success in-house. Themes included adaptability, personal re-invention, use of technology, project management and working as part of cross functional teams. The program made several references to the distinction between a 20th Century “I” shaped lawyer and a 21st Century “T” shaped lawyer. Essentially, “I” shaped lawyers have deep expertise in one area, whereas “T” shaped lawyers embrace process change and take a broader multi-disciplinary approach to their roles. ABA’s article, “The 21st-Century T-Shaped Lawyer,” does a good job of discussing this topic, one that is very popular among legal consultants.

John embraces innovation, but he also understands the value of expertise when it matters most. With a grin, John said he still goes to the “thousand dollar an hour lawyer” when it comes to broker/dealer advice (mission critical to his business).

Companies continue to get better at limiting high-end law firm use to specialized advice or major transactions.

Based on the foregoing, it would be reasonable to conclude that generalists are in highest demand when law departments hire. After all, a generalist mindset is indeed valued in-house. And yet, the bulk of our orders come when clients need specialists for those in-house positions that are most difficult to fill: Employment, FDA, ’40 Act, Securities, Intellectual Property, etc.

As law firms continue to silo based on expertise and reward their best lawyers with ever larger salaries and bonuses, it becomes harder to pry specialists away from firms. Besides, there is a very strong preference among our clients to hire whenever possible from another company… not lawyers coming straight from a firm to their first in-house position. The net result is that in-house specialists are in shorter supply and greater demand. It’s good to be an “I” shaped expert who understands how to succeed on a “T” shaped playing field.

And we know how to source those needles in the haystack.