Trends in Corporate Counsel: What we learned at ACC

Members of our Adams & Martin Group team recently attended the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) conference in Las Vegas, coming away with lots of valuable insight straight from corporate legal professionals themselves. We wanted to take a moment to share a few of our observations learned at the conference and how legal hiring could be impacted in the future. 

Overall, the mood at ACC was positive and the turnout was large, including many managing partners representing their firms as vendors. “As this was their first in-person event since the pandemic, ACC had set relatively conservative goals for attendance,” noted Morgan Lefforge, National Attorney Search Manager for Adams & Martin Group. “They far exceeded their goal, and personally, it just felt great to be face-to-face again with so many legal professionals.” 

No slow-down in hiring 

While the media has been covering a potential economic slowdown and layoffs, attendees at ACC reported no signs of a slow-down in legal hiring, especially in the realm of corporate counsel. “Companies are still finding it difficult to find and secure top legal talent, from attorneys to support roles,” said Kristy Carbajal, Vice President of Adams & Martin Group. “Legal departments are growing, and hiring managers need to be flexible and fast when it comes to recruiting talent to their organization.” Demand is particularly high for attorneys specializing in data privacy. 

Career flexibility and life balance 

Careers in corporate counsel are proving to be an attractive alternate career path for many attorneys looking for a change of pace. “In contrast to working for a law firm, corporate counsel positions often offer more flexibility around remote work, improved life balance, no billable hours structure, and direct access to C-level executives,” Morgan explained. With many firms returning to a 100% in-office work environment, companies with hybrid or remote work options are very attractive to attorneys seeking flexibility and balance. Overall, the hiring managers we spoke to at the conference were quite optimistic about being able to attract talent in today’s market. In speaking with vendors in attendance, we noted several who observed the trends of Big Law attorneys moving to mid-size firms for more flexibility around fee structures.   

Planning for the next generation of attorneys 

Succession planning was very much top of mind for many attendees as well. In addition to hiring to meet current needs, leaders are looking to ensure they have strong associates ready to grow and succeed well into the future. “This includes nurturing current associates as well as hiring attorneys with strong potential for longevity and leadership roles,” said Kristy. It also involves creating a plan for phasing out senior partners when the time comes, to facilitate a smooth transition. 

Billable hours trending out 

We heard a lot of discussion about the significant trend of billable hours slowly phasing out of the legal realm. Corporate legal clients are looking for different and creative ways to bill, including statement-of-work and project-based proposals and firms are listening. “Associates’ needs in terms of life balance and mental well-being means that the billable hours model is being challenged,” said Morgan.  Some firms are moving away from a billable hours minimum and incentivizing billing with a performance-based bonus structure. It seems likely that this change is just a small step in moving away from billables. 

Diversity efforts in focus 

Diversity is another significant topic on everyone’s minds, as the legal field generally lags behind other industries in this area. In speaking with representatives from corporate legal departments, we found that many are pushing their outside counsel on diversity efforts by contracting more often with diverse attorneys. Some of the tactics they are employing include making exceptions around mandatory discounts for diverse firms, paying more for diverse firms, and including diverse representation as a requirement in contracts. “Associates are wanting to see more diverse representation in the legal realm, and this is one-way corporate counsel can help move the needle in the right direction on this critical issue,” said Kristy. 

Everyone at Adams & Martin Group appreciated the opportunity to spend time face-to-face with ACC attendees, and we look forward to more events in the future! If you’re in need of legal hiring assistance, Adams & Martin Group is ready to help. We specialize in legal staffing, attorney search and litigation solutions. Contact us to discuss your hiring challenges and plans.