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How To Build Your Case For A Junior Lawyer

You left private practice and joined a great corporation for a lot of reasons:  the challenge of running a legal department, being part of a business, not just acting as a hired gun and the opportunity to immerse yourself in, and become an expert in, an attractive industry.

Suddenly your company is firing on all cylinders and your work/life balance is suffering.  You spend more and more time thinking about hiring a junior lawyer to share the workload.  How do you make the case to your superiors that hiring a junior, especially in tougher economic times, is good for the company?

There are two important areas to consider; what I’ll call “The Numbers” and “The Intangibles”.

The Numbers

Remember the good old days in your law firm when you were a profit centre?  In house lawyers are most often seen as an expense.  The easiest way, therefore, to make your case for a junior is to show your superiors how it will save the company money.

You are in the best position to determine this.  You understand the legal spend better than anyone (at least, you should).  You understand how you use outside counsel and how much it costs.  Thus, the first real question to ask is, can hiring a junior lawyer actually save the company money?  If you can make a clear business case that adding a junior counsel will save the company considerable money, getting approval to hire a junior should be an easy task.

Sometimes, however, hiring a junior won’t really save the company money.  You have to be frank about that with your superiors.  You have to show your superiors that you have considered the financial implications of hiring a junior and, though it is negative, there are still many good reasons to take on a new lawyer.  Then you have to emphasize, “The Intangibles”.

The Intangibles

The best use of your time.   Most General Counsels are an integral part of the management team.  At a senior level, grinding out contracts is not likely the best use of your time.  Make the case that you are spending too much time on lower level work.  Make the case that hiring a junior (rather than shipping it to outside counsel) will be more efficient for the company, and will free you up to deal with company initiatives at the planning stages and allow you to be more accessible to handle pressing issues without having to drop everything else.

Expertise.  Some companies can really benefit by having specific legal expertise in house.  For example, a company that is expanding its retail outlets may greatly benefit from hiring a junior leasing lawyer to shepherd all leasing matters.  Perhaps senior management can be convinced that this junior lawyer can expand his or her usefulness by becoming an expert in the procurement of retail space, not just in negotiating the legal points.  At that point, the junior becomes a hybrid of sorts and perhaps the cost of the junior can be split amongst departments.

Risk reduction.  One General Counsel, spread too thin, begs for problems to slip through the cracks.  Here’s a nightmare scenario—you’re overworked (or perhaps on holidays) and someone who should speak to you about a perceived risk doesn’t do so because that person has difficulty getting a meeting. The project goes ahead without canvassing a potential risk and the project blows up down the road.  Having an extra lawyer around may prevent that disaster scenario.

Really, it’s more subtle than that.  A company with an active and engaged legal team invites employees to work with them to reduce company risk.  A company with one overworked, hard-to-reach General Counsel may incur unacceptable risks simply because employees are impatient.

Many companies manage this through outside counsel, but there may be hesitation by key internal stakeholders to take advantage of outside counsel when the GC is busy because of perceived cost or lack of a relationship between the key internal stakeholders and the outside counsel.

Bottom line is that a responsive, hardworking junior will be perceived as “one of us” by the rest of the company and hopefully will then become a trusted and valued resource that can be tapped when the GC is too busy.  And, by putting company policies in place to deal with risk (which you’ll now have time to draft because you have a junior to share the load), you can really make a difference in how risk is handled by employees on a day-to-day basis.

So, Make the Case!

Especially when the numbers don’t back the case for a junior, look for creative ways to make the case that the intangibles warrant making the hire.

In conclusion, you’re really pushing one of two arguments:  (1) hiring a junior will save the company money and there are plenty of good intangible reasons to hire a junior; or (2) hiring a junior will not save the company money (and may, in fact, cost the company more money), but the intangible factors in favour of hiring a junior outweigh the added expense.

Sit down, write out your case and present it to your boss.  The old adage that bosses want to hear solutions, not problems, applies here.   Properly presented, you can explain the problem to your superior, provide a solution and provide compelling arguments that, hopefully, make it difficult for the boss to say anything other than yes.

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