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Top 5 Trends For Hiring General Counsel In 2023

During 2022, we saw an even tighter war for talent, midterm elections and a softening economy with lots of uncertainty ahead due to inflation. In my conversations with HR leaders and General Counsel, here are some of the trends I am seeing drive the recruitment of in-house legal talent for 2023.

New Data and Findings From Hybrid Work Models.

With nearly two years of remote and hybrid work behind us, we can now confidently draw some conclusions from the experience and its impact on the workforce. Multiple articles and studies recently cite that hybrid work is more exhaustive than working fully remote or fully in-office. Hybrid workers report that reintroducing a commute, maintaining two independent workspaces, establishing two sets of routines, shifting from a more focused workspace (remote) to a more bustling one (in-office) all add to making work more stressful. While hybrid and remote arrangements theoretically present greater access to diversity and hard to find talent - the stressful and disruptive nature of it can quickly cause burnout. My advice to companies in 2023 is to take a very close look at hybrid models and create a set-up that is right for your company and teams. This is particularly important when onboarding new legal talent as so much process, routine and organizational knowledge is gained within the first 100 days.

A Stronger Focus And Return To Cultural Fit.

As an executive search consultant, I always tell HR decision makers and companies that the best General Counsel may not be the most qualified, but will definitely be the best fit. Cultural fit is one of those things you can’t force, train or develop in a leader - and so much of cultural fit is built upon in-person, non-verbal communication, collaboration, teamwork, chemistry and more. I like to compare cultural fit to online dating. On paper someone may look like a great match, who is more than qualified. However, in person with that initial chemistry lacking, the relationship will likely fizzle in just a few short months (or days). When it comes to cultural fit - trust that gut feeling you initially get when meeting a candidate for the first time such as: “I really enjoy how this person thinks and views the world, and I want to be more closely aligned and connected to them and their ideas.” At the end of the day cultural fit should be the dealbreaker that pushes one candidate just further ahead of another - and this can truly only be measured and leveraged in-person.

A New Skill Set Is Emerging For General Counsel.

In my conversations with HR leaders and C-Suite executives over the last year, I’ve noticed organizations are looking for a different type of skill. Companies are seeking out General Counsel and legal talent that have a much deeper and sharper business acumen, who can expertly advise senior leaders not only on legal challenges, but the overall strategic direction of the business. General Counsel often hold a very pragmatic view of the world and this translates incredibly well to making decisions that are methodical, deliberate and logical. From a hiring perspective, legal talent is more competitive and can contribute more value if they are:

  • Driven by curiosity

  • Great at listening

  • An intellectual with a strong balance between IQ and EQ

  • Able to partner, persuade and guide the senior leadership to the best outcomes

With this shift occurring, more General Counsel will be required to step into the shoes of a C-Suite executive to help generate consensus and become more involved in strategic planning.

Uncertainty Will Remain In Control Of Talent Mobility.

Uncertainty in the economy, government, inflation and more will continue to have an impact emotionally and psychologically on talent mobility in 2023. This sentiment generates a risk averse candidate market, where fear and uncertainty control a candidate’s ability to confidently commit to a career change. With more candidates that are less willing to make a career change, it decreases the overall amount of qualified talent available and actively searching for new opportunities. As a search consultant, the biggest challenge that economic uncertainty presents for a General Counsel search is not finding the talent, but persuading them to consider a change by more deeply engaging them throughout the process. Most companies believe that benefits, perks, options and rewards are their strongest asset when it comes to talent acquisition and recruiting. But ultimately being able to position an opportunity to a candidate where he/she/they can envision themself in the role is what will defrost this feeling of uncertainty.

A Realignment of Expectations For Your Recruitment Process

In 2022, I found that some companies had misaligned expectations when it came to things like offering a competitive salary and actively recruiting the top echelon of talent. As demand for legal talent continues to grow, the availability of highly qualified candidates is decreasing, placing more pressures on salary expectations. In some cases, companies are expecting to pay a Director-level salary when hiring for a senior-level legal position. Leading with a lower end salary range will set very serious limitations on reaching the best talent, and companies need to adjust the misconception that employers still have influence in the job market. As a search consultant, I have seen many offers extended for what the market is yielding in terms of salary and I use this data and insight to help organizations make competitive offers. It is when the salary expectations remain low from the employer side - that they will continue to lose the war for talent.

Aside from salary, organizations will need to reevaluate the effectiveness of their recruitment processes. In the last year I have noticed HR managers shifting to and depending more upon job postings and job advertisements on LinkedIn, job boards, etc. This is a great practice for recruiting more junior level talent where the goal is to generate a higher volume of applicants, but when it comes to finding highly sought after leaders for General Counsel - this practice is often a misstep. From my experience, it is very difficult to build a strong slate of senior level candidates from job advertisements for two reasons. First, they often lack the right experience or skills and second they barely meet the minimum requirements of the position. I’ve found that the best candidates I present are the ones I find organically through my outreach. I begin to assess and measure a candidate’s motivations, abilities, skills, values and potential fit from the very first phone call. Paid job advertisements delay this insight, especially when surveys, metrics and digital assessment tools are placed too early in the recruitment process. In-house recruiters will often interview a candidate after completing this series of tests and screening surveys, only to find that cultural fit, capabilities and skills are non-existent. This continues to delay the hiring process by several weeks as the candidate “on paper” is not really the most qualified.

Thank you for your support this year and if you are looking to hire General Counsel or expand your legal team in 2023, please give me a call. I would welcome the opportunity to discuss how Early Cochran & Olson might be of assistance to you.

About Corinne Cochran.

Corinne Cochran began her career in executive search in 1983, specializing in the recruitment of senior lawyers for corporations and law firms. In 1994, she merged her firm with Bert Early Associates to form Early Cochran & Olson. After more than 30 years, Corinne remains passionate about the business and the people. Her extensive network, seasoned approach and well-honed intuition are proven to deliver top legal talent from Fortune 500 to privately-held clients. Corinne received her bachelor’s degree in English from The Principia College and has been a long-time volunteer and leader in a variety of community and civic activities.


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