PRIVATE practice lawyers' ability to read law-firm language, know where the "fat" is, and manage law firm lawyers is making them an invaluable resource for in-house teams.
As private practice lawyers tire of diminishing practices, unstable work and law firm culture, corporations are timing headhunting perfectly, scooping them up for their own in-house legal teams.
The appeal of recruiting private practice lawyers grows for corporations as in-house teams increasingly struggle with the workload put before them in the current global economic climate.
"People are having less time in-house to manage the external resource," said Australian Corporate Lawyers Association (ACLA) chief executive, Peter Turner.
"Managing external lawyers is a major part of the task," said Turner. "Some in-house counsel struggle with that because they are put in charge of a very expensive resource without the experience to deal with it," he said.
"We're seeing some very senior in-house counsel sourced from within law firms. They really do have the expertise. They understand what the cost structure of a law firm is, where the fat is, and they understand that a law firm has to live as well. By coming to a good working arrangement with external counsel, efficiency is achieved," Turner said.
As the legal market tightens, jobs within law firms become harder to find. As many lawyers are tiring of the law firm grind, there has been an increase of private practice lawyers moving in-house.
Turner said ACLA has seen an increase in these types of appointments as the economy falters. "There has been an almost surge of appointments of senior in-house counsel. You will find nearly all have been sourced externally rather than internally."
The trend is "unfortunate" for corporate counsel who are losing out on promotions as experienced private practice lawyers take the helm in major teams. They are better placed to manage outsourcing work to external lawyers, said Turner.
While Turner said he is personally in favour of internal promotion, where appropriate, and hopes it won't be a trend, he said "there is no doubt about the facts".
Some high-profile recent appointments show the trend developing. PricewaterhouseCoopers is bulking its UK legal arm with a triple partner hire, each from law firms. Deloitte in the UK has made a similar partner hire, from law firm Reynolds Porter Chamberlain.