Deciding On Your First Legal Hire

Melissa La Forest: How did you decide to make your first legal hire and what prompted you to make that hire?

Natalie Salunke: When considering the first legal hire, it depends on the organization's culture and lifecycle. The key factor for me is how to initiate a conversation about negotiating headcount and budget. In some roles, I've negotiated this before starting as the head of legal or general counsel, making sure I have access to those resources. Some of those resources include team and headcount.

Hiring Process

I tend to hire on the more junior end, especially when working for a scale-up startup with a small legal team. This is because the business is still getting used to the concept of having a legal team.

Employers often think they've invested a lot of money in hiring senior lawyers, especially if the head of legal or general counsel is involved. Therefore, it's important to gather data points to support the team's value and the importance of the first legal hire. If you haven't had the opportunity to create this narrative before joining the company, it's especially crucial.

If you're unable to find paralegal or trainee level roles for support with administrative and junior legal work, consider running an internship program. This is an interesting way to attract talent while also giving back to the legal community.

Benefits of Hiring an Intern

The idea is to hire several interns, such as law graduates or students, to assist with tasks like data mapping and other junior-level work.

This approach creates a talent pool that can be used for permanent hires in the future. By testing out the interns, the company can identify strong candidates for future positions. Additionally, having junior-level staff can bring a fresh perspective to the data mapping process, which might not be considered by more senior lawyers.

The Blueprint

Natalie: I've carried around a blueprint for over 10 years now. There is a buoyant market for people wanting experience, which is often required to get a training contract or further opportunities.

High-quality candidates are plentiful, and there are free tools available, such as LinkedIn, Milk Ground, and university sites, to advertise internship positions. In my last role, we received 250 applicants over the weekend after posting our ads. The challenge is not finding interesting talent, but rather managing the overwhelming demand and not being able to provide everyone with an opportunity.

Value Adaptability

Johanna: When I joined Klarna, the organization already had about 30 people. Since then, we've grown to around 130 people due to the addition of new business units, product launches, and entry into new markets. As our team has expanded, we've focused less on hiring senior people who can work independently and more on hiring individuals with personalities that appreciate change and backgrounds in companies that value adaptability.

Our team is now more distributed, which brings value and helps people grow. Senior team members can develop their leadership skills and assist junior talent, while also being relieved of administrative and repetitive tasks.

Instead of solely focusing on experience, we now prioritize personality and background when hiring new talent. It's important to find individuals who appreciate change and are adaptive in agile environments, which is something that most people claim to be these days.