Is Building a Specialized Legal Talent Vertical Right for Your Firm?

November 10, 2023

Is Building a Specialized Legal Talent Vertical Right for Your Firm?

by Andres Chagui, Partner

The rate at which law firms have increased their use of captive ALSPs confirms a burgeoning acceptance and adoption of alternative legal business approaches. One subset of this is flexible legal talent, an alternative talent solution that offers the pliability to swiftly adapt to changing demand.

As a law firm, building your own flexible legal talent vertical offers opportunity for resource scalability, cost efficiency, and/or access to specialized expertise. Yet, establishing and maintaining this vertical to successfully achieve these goals is not as simple as it might seem at first blush. That’s because building a flexible talent function requires a different approach than traditional recruiting, with clients expecting a certain level of adaptability and speed.

Establishing a flexible talent vertical, either internally or through a captive ALSP, requires careful strategic planning to align the firm’s goals, culture, budget, and client needs. Within this process, there are three essential components to consider: (1) deal flow, (2) resources, and (3) time. In this article, we will delve into these components and pose strategic questions to ponder when assessing the viability of a flexible legal talent vertical for your firm.

Balancing Deal Flow

To ensure that a flexible legal talent operation does not become a financial burden, firms must balance a steady stream of work against an appropriate level of resource allocation. When considering the launch of your own talent vertical, assess the volume of work expected and the attorney qualifications required to manage that work. Then, determine the number of specialized attorneys that are required to meet demand in each category – keeping in mind that the speed at which clients expect on-demand talent requests to be fulfilled means you likely must bring in more attorneys than the work alone suggests.

Questions to consider:

How often do clients request a specific type of attorney?
This analysis should encompass different specialization categories, such as 1) practice area, 2) industry-level experience, and 3) jurisdiction.

Which areas of deal work can be effectively handled by flexible talent?
Identify specific tasks or projects that can be successfully outsourced to flexible talent, factoring in the complexity and criticality of the work involved.

How many attorneys would be required to meet demand in each category?
To fill talent requests quickly, it is recommended to add more attorneys to your bench than the workload requires to ensure there is always an attorney available.

How will you structure compensation for specialized attorneys?
Paying attorneys both during and between assignments provides an incentive for flexible talent to stay longer, but if the number of paid attorneys outnumbers the incoming deal work, this arrangement can become financially burdensome. This is why a careful analysis of incoming deal volume and specialized attorney talent is key to building a function that is nimble enough to flex with shifting demand, without overinvesting resources.

Managing Talent Resources

Recruiting on-demand specialized talent is dramatically different than traditional lateral law firm hiring. You’re not just looking for specialized experience—you’re also looking at a smaller subset of the broad legal talent pool.

Only a fraction of the total number of Big Law-caliber attorneys are both qualified and interested in working on a fractional or interim basis. This makes “on-demand” attorneys more difficult to find. Building a robust talent pool requires continuous outreach, vetting, and follow-up to ensure candidates are readily available for work. There are also human resources and administration particulars necessary to ensure compliance with insurance and local regulatory issues and to manage attorney compensation.

Questions to consider:

How can the firm attract and retain top-tier flexible talent?
Examine how the firm can position itself as an attractive option for flexible talent. Consider solutions such as competitive compensation, engaging work, and professional development opportunities.

What systems, processes, and technology will be required to maintain records of candidate applications, interview notes, attorney assignments, etc.?
If the firm has a team of multiple recruiters, they should have access to a centralized system where they can assign ownership to various recruiting tasks, prioritize open requests, log interview notes and attorney placement history, and more. A centralized system would also allow recruiters to search for specific qualifications to match candidates already in the talent pool to a client’s particular needs and preferences (e.g., experience in a specific practice area, industry-level experience, personality fit, licensure, location).

Would specialized on-demand attorneys be W-2 employees of the firm or independent contractors?
Look at HR, insurance, and local regulatory issues as well as who in your organization will manage personnel relations and administrative tasks, such as paychecks.

Fulfilling Talent Requests with Speed

When requesting “on-demand” talent, both internal and external clients expect you to move a lot faster than the traditional lateral recruiting process. There are two ways to achieve the speed required: 1) pay attorneys in your talent pool, even when they are not on an assignment, so they are ready for work at any given time or 2) institute a large, expensive recruiting team to cultivate a robust talent pool that they can swiftly engage for work assignments.

Filling requests quickly means it is not viable to begin recruiting when an on-demand talent request is made. Building a talent pool that operates effectively requires continuous activity from the recruiting team to replenish the bench, vet new candidates, engage attorneys in the talent pool to evaluate interest and availability in work assignments, and propose candidates to the client.

Questions to consider:

How many internal staff members are necessary for recruiting and continually replenishing the talent pool?
Recruiting for the talent pool is a continual process that includes outreach to potential candidates, vetting and interviewing, checking in with attorneys to evaluate interest in and availability for open assignments, and proposing candidates to the client. The size of the recruiting team will depend on the scope of the incoming deals and specialized attorney assignments, as well as your preferred method for distributing recruiting tasks by practice area, geographical location, or other categorization.

Can you allocate existing revenue-generating resources to assist in the recruiting process?
If the law firm already has a recruiting team but wants to add scale and legal expertise to the vetting process, one solution could be to allocate associate or partner time to help vet and conduct interviews.

Would you add additional internal staff to manage and respond to service requests so that the recruiting team stays focused on replenishing the talent pool?
Ideally this process involves surveying the existing talent pool for attorneys with the right fit, contacting those attorneys to assess interest and availability, and presenting suitable candidates to the client.

Conclusion: What Are Your Goals?

Building a specialized on-demand legal talent vertical is complex and requires consideration of many factors. That’s why it’s so important to always remember what your goals are.

Will the vertical be designed to deliver enhanced client service, thereby attracting more business and new clients? Will the vertical be a source of profit generation or is the focus on preventing a competitor from winning business away from the firm? Knowing your purpose will guide you as you begin the process of investing resources into this initiative.

In the end, you may find that instead of building your own, it’s preferable to partner with a flexible legal talent provider that already has the systems and talent resources available and can be called upon as needed. Doing so will enable you to tap into an existing talent pool of hard-to-find talent and quickly flex and scale resources to meet client demand, all without impacting firm profitability.

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