How to recruit your first in-house legal specialist

The hiring process for any organisation is a difficult one – particularly for a business hiring its first legal specialist. The Federation of Small Businesses estimates that 99% of small businesses in the UK are SMEs. It stands to reason then, that the vast majority of these organisations will outsource their legal function. In general, organisations generally decide to bring their legal resource in house should their external fees exceed a certain amount – it’s just good business sense.

While for smaller businesses, outsourcing this process is indeed a viable decision, once a business reaches a certain size it is a foregone conclusion that legal requirements will either supersede the knowledge of whomever has managed this function previously, or the process of outsourcing itself will simply become ineffective in terms of capital investment.

Despite this, many businesses postpone the hiring of their first legal professional – instead, neglecting this critical function until they find themselves in need of legal advice. Much like an accountant, having one on payroll often mitigates a vast number of issues that could be avoided. As with many issues, the cost to mitigate an issue is invariably far less than fixing that issue once it turns ‘nuclear’.

The question then becomes one of whether your organisation should continue outsourcing its legal obligations to outside agencies, or simply bring the legal function in-house. What then, differentiates a good practitioner for a bad one? How can a good hire in this area be determined?

The first question that must be asked boils down to one of experience – what will this new hire be required to do in their new role? Whilst every firm may prefer a legal hot-shot to protect the best interests of their business, the reality is that such talent is a rare thing.

Once your hiring manager has confirmed the scope of the role they are hiring for, the specifics will define whether or not your new hire must be skilled in what they do, or are relatively new to the industry. If the former, you can expect them to work relatively autonomously. If you have hired the latter, however, it may emerge that said specialist requires a greater level of management and oversight to properly undertake their role. Ensuring the balance of skills and experience here is paramount.

One of the most common skills required by organisations hiring their first in-house legal practitioner is that of commercial contracts – defining the whys and wherefores behind the legal documents a company will come across in its daily routine. The second most common focusses on particular industry specialisms, whether pharmaceutical, technological or even manufacturing-oriented.

The second stage required to hire the best solicitor at firm is one of resourcing. Hiring your first lawyer is a complicated undertaking. Despite containing the usual facets of the hiring process, getting this process right requires a different skill-set entirely – one beyond the experience of many. If you’re hiring your first in-house lawyer, you will understand intimately that sometimes, finding the right skills is simply a matter of experience. While undertaking certain tasks in-house is indeed more cost effective, the down-side is that it takes stakeholders away from tasks that can help grow and develop the business. It simply becomes less cost effective the more time is spent elsewhere.