It can be really difficult to know when a GC should make their first legal hire. Not only that, but who should they hire…and how should they hire them?
Our expert panel guided us through their experiences and shared their best tips for navigating the murky waters of making their first legal hires.
Meet the Presenters:
- Understand the business model and current pain points before making the first hire.
- Expertise is important, but it isn’t everything. Assess compatibility with the values of the company, your team, and yourself when evaluating candidates.
- Communicate risk and build a trusting relationship with the C-Suite.
- Tap into your networks, hire good people, and more will follow.
What prompted you to make the first hire?
Nishat, “I evaluated the work volume and cadence of being able to be responsive to the business.”
Took a nontraditional route and had legal interns help us in the beginning. When the budget was there, we were able to scale and grow by building the team internally.
Jamie, “Balance the needs of the company and area of expertise that is needed- that you don’t have.”
I started immediately building out the infrastructure with which I didn’t have experience.
Megan, “If I were to go back in time, I would have posted job openings before I even started.”
We needed to hire for the long-term, short-term, and yesterday’s needs simultaneously. Evaluate the core, non-negotiable support you’ll need to hire before your first day and see if you can post them before you start.
What was the first role you hired for?
Megan, “Our first hire was a legal-ops hire”.
A legal team does so much more than ‘just legal’. Leverage automation, and set up the systems at scale, so you can prevent the need for more lawyers.
Jamie, “Building out the contracts process really does scale itself.”
Having someone who is an expert in the legal-ops or contract management area is priceless.
Nishat, “Fill the gaps as best you can with the puzzle you have.”
We needed to find someone who fits the culture of the organization and the strategy we were trying to achieve.
What qualities do you look for in the initial hires?
Jamie, “It has to be someone who can work independently and take charge.”
It’s a skill not everyone has. Someone more seasoned is a better hire, especially in a remote-only role. I look for someone who knows more than me in a specific subject.
Megan, “I find the very best people who compliment my skill sets and make up for my deficiencies.”
Hire the person with more expertise, time, and experience to dive into a particular issue. Think about what the makeup of the team as a whole is, and how it interacts with the business.
How has your recruitment experience changed over the past few years?
Megan, “I take every single screening call across the board.”
By being deeply involved in the hiring process, I can suss out the risk profile, and cover it right off the bat without including the recruiting team.
Nishat, “The process of finding the right legal fit is really unique.”
Trying to find a creative lawyer is very hard. That’s the opposite of what we need at TED. We require careful editing and drafting, so we include a redlining exercise.
How do you get by in to hire a really expensive lawyer or a non-attorney?
Jamie, “I look at the strategy of the C-Suite, and work in line with their strategy.”
Understand the risks, and the area of expertise you need to handle that.
Megan, “We’ve relied on contractors and part-time resources as the canaries in the coal mine.”
When the outside hires are easily billing 40-50 hours a week, it’s time to bring that role in-house. By ruthlessly prioritizing, and communicating what can’t get done (due to the lack of current resources) you can put the decision in the hands of the C-Suite.
What’s worked for you in terms of finding really good talent?
Jamie, “I rely on my network heavily.”
Relying on personal networks is good to find great hires, but you need a metric to check that. We use a practical assessment in the hiring process.
Megan, “Attitude is aptitude. Aptitude is the ability to be successful.”
Judging for aptitude can be hard in an interview but is better than ticking the box in subject matter and experience.
Nishat, “I enjoy finding things that are not typical.”
There are a lot of resources that don’t reflect authentic experience. You have to look into the person, not just the presentation. Having another person have a conversation with them can determine which hires fit best.
What do you think about the title for a first attorney hire?
Megan, “senior ex-counsel.”
Set the expectation that there’s a huge trajectory for growth, but don’t start with something high, it’s hard to downgrade a title.
Nishat, “We use associate counsel.”
It’s a big shift in the mindset to move in-house, so we start at the associate level. It depends on the level, and what you’re asking them to do.
Jamie, “The next hire is not going to be a second generalist.”
The next hire isn’t going to be a deputy or a VP. I’d have it as a senior counsel.
What would you suggest for someone looking to stand out who hasn’t gone to top law school or worked in a Big Law firm?
Jamie, “I didn’t go to a great law school. I didn’t work at a big firm.”
It’s all about perseverance, figuring out what your trajectory is, and what you need to do to get there.
Nishat, “Having informational interviews may be helpful.”
There are many types of in-house work. Learn about the roles and what the industry is like before you jump in. That way, hiring managers may keep your name and face in their back pocket.
Megan, “I think there’s value in being trained somewhere where someone has a dedicated ability to mentor.”
At a high growth company, we don’t have the time to hire someone without expertise. For a person looking to get into the industry, reach to bigger in-house legal departments that have the time and resources to show you the ropes.
What practical advice can you share about becoming a better manager?
Megan, “I’ve made a lot of mistakes.”
I deeply internalize my mistakes and learn how to correct them. I look to surround myself with people who have complementary strengths, so we can support the team more holistically.
Nishat, “Be critical about what you know, and what you don’t…and try to be better at it.”
Remove the barriers to having open communication, and build transparent relationships with those around you.
Jamie, “I am always open to self-improvement and feedback.”
I want to be an open door for feedback at any time, and not just at review time. If there’s an opportunity for growth in my colleague’s careers, I support that.
Have you dealt with pushback with the CEO when making a legal hire?
Megan, “It indicates there’s a why behind the what that needs to be explained.”
It’s not what the CEO is anchored on. They need to know why you need it now, yesterday, and 6 months from now.
Nishat, “They need to know before you need to ask.”
The trust and relationship you have with leadership are important. They need to be aware of the issues, and how they strategically affect the business.
Jamie, “Know your CEO and what is compelling to them.”
Knowing what moves them is very helpful.
What are you doing to retain talent in today’s environment?
Nishat, “I am not into retaining hires beyond what’s naturally good for their trajectory.”
It’s important to recognize that you should support talent and their journey.
Megan, “Money doesn’t keep people in jobs.”
It’s about fulfillment and that sense of community.
🤓 Loved this event and want to see more? Check out our upcoming events in March!
➕ Forging Inclusive Workspaces For Women In Law To Thrive featuring GCs from Compass, Illumina, and the NY Mets.
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