June 2002

 Gathering Steam:  In-House Hiring Picks Up

CHUTES And LADDERS

By Jennifer E. King

 

COULD THAT be the light at the end of the tunnel?  Is it a speck on the horizon?  Are we gathering steam?  Might the end finally be in sight? 

    Maybe,  quite possibly, in-house hiring is starting to get back on track.  "I'm happy to say we are seeing a pick up in in-house activity," says Michael M. Coleman, founder and president of Coleman Legal Search in Philadelphia. 

    I don't want to overstate this and say it's a material, substantial, dramatic reversal.  It's a pick up.  It's not like there are 10 more assignments than this time last year, but there is a clear, gradual pick up, and it seems to be moving in the right direction."

    "Another legal recruiter, Aaron Williams, says that in two weeks in April, his firm received three assignments from new clients, all in different industries.

    "To have three new clients in two weeks is highly unusual," says Williams, who is president of Aaron Consulting, Inc. in St. Louis.  "To put it in perspective, in a great year we have 10 new clients, in addition to business from repeat clients.  From September 11 through March, we had just two new clients."

    Williams describes his new clients as mid-cap companies, with small legal departments, in brick-and-mortar industries that have fared better than many since the economy took a tumble.

    Coleman's clients are primarily in the pharmaceutical and bio-tech industries, and largely based on the East Coast.

    Both recruiters say they are filling openings at all levels of the legal department.  Some are positions that have been vacant for months, but kept empty because of hiring freezes; others are newly created positions or recent vacancies.

    To be fair, this certainly isn't a surge in in-house hiring, nor does it mean that every part of the country is recovering quickly.

    "New York may be somewhat slower than the rest of the country to rebound, because it's taken more of a hit," says Catherine R. Nathan, a consultant at Spencer Stuart in New York.  "We haven't seen a turnaround yet, but everyone's waiting."

    Most of the positions Nathan is filling are based elsewhere in the country.  In particular, most of her openings are for in-house IP counsel at all levels and in all industries.

    So are we beginning to experience a reversal in the hiring freezes and layoffs within legal departments?  The anecdotal evidence seems to point in that direction.

    "The large-cap companies still aren't over the hump, but I'm betting that by August or September they will be, and then they will get back in the hiring mode," Williams says.  "All of those positions that were backed up will begin to be filled."

    But keep your fingers crossed, just to be on the safe side.