Alison McKee
Alison McKee

Articles From the Team

The demand for in-house commercial lawyers: changing conversations, business profiles

As I’ve discussed in recent blogs, we’re currently experiencing a skills shortage of commercial lawyers to move between or into in-house roles. My colleagues and I are in touch with the vast proportion of in-house lawyers across the UK (well over 90%), but that doesn’t mean there are enough lawyers looking in order to fill the number of instructions we’re receiving. (In September alone, my colleague, Craig Wilson, and I assisted 11 commercial lawyers with in-house moves in the North West). 

With this demand, the conversations we have with our clients are changing. It can take longer to find the right lawyer for a role than it did 12 months ago, and in some cases, it’s necessary to consider lawyers outside of commercial disciplines who exhibit the right personal attributes. Put simply, it has never been more difficult to generate a shortlist for our in-house clients. 

Inevitably, this has a commercial impact. We take a reasonable standpoint on our fees but we also fiercely believe our service is worth every penny we charge. The work that goes into ensuring we’re an important part of the in-house market doesn’t happen without a lot of time, effort and integrity.

So, when I spoke to a new client recently who wanted me to work at extremely low rates, I explained the current landscape. I completely understand it’s the job of a procurement department to ensure a level of standardisation and value across service provision for their business. But, the fact is, we’re currently job heavy and candidate light and we have a responsibility to create a level playing field on cost.

I’m working with an excellent junior commercial lawyer, who are exclusively registered with me, and the important factor is to ensure they find the right job. Consider two scenarios.

Scenario One

Business One is a client BCL Legal knows well.  The legal team attend our seminars, and they engage with us during our social events. We understand the culture, we’ve been to their offices, and we know the people. When they recruit we know the type of personality to look out for and we can soundly advise the lawyers we deal with as a result. We can suggest solutions that might step away from the traditional, but we know they'll work because we understand the client’s need. They pay us a slightly reduced but fair percentage for our work and engage with us exclusively. They take time to interview the lawyers we recommend and conduct a slick, speedy process to ensure they land their desired lawyer.

Scenario Two

Business 2 initially engage through procurement – in order to agree on fees. They want us to work to a certain rate “because everyone on their PSL does.” This rate is 5% less than we offer to any of our other clients. In addition, Business 2 has already used a PSL agency for a period of time, and in an attempt to recruit for their legal role, they’ve been unsuccessful. They don’t want to meet and contact with the legal team is limited. As a result, we’re hampered in our ability to sell the role properly, and unable to work with the business in a way that highlights the proper value of our service.

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