In-house lawyers now facing same human resources challenge as law firms

Whilst Human Resources (HR) and the issue of how to recruit and retain the best young lawyers continues to be a hot topic amongst law firms, the issues for in-house legal teams remain largely unknown.

At a recent Master Class organised by Iberian Lawyer, and hosted by the Instituto de Empresa, senior in-house lawyers met with HR experts from the business and legal world to discuss the issues they face.

Whilst in-house legal teams are struggling to compete with law firms to recruit new talent, a key issue is whether as work–life balance becomes increasingly important for young lawyers, they will be able to provide rewarding long term careers.

Wider skills required

As a starting point, both companies and law firms are looking to recruit from the same talent pool. A few years ago, the selection process focused mainly on academic achievement. However, young lawyers are now required to have skills over and above knowledge of the law, which is taken for granted.

Jesus Moreno, Company Secretary and Head of Legal at Correos, the Spanish postal service, believes that ‘If you want the business to respect you, it is important to be flexible, understanding and pleasant, and it is crucial to be able to work in a team.’

This is the same for law firms, said Lourdes Ramos, Director of HR at Garrigues, “the younger generation have changed and we must try to get the best out of them. They know the international environment, new technologies and are more sure of themselves. “

Thus, locating the right people can be difficult. In addition, businesses are facing the same issues as law firms regarding the new generation of lawyers.

The distinguishing characteristics of Generation Y, born between 1981 and 2000, some suggest, are a questioning nature and a defiant attitude. Unlikely to spend years trying to become partners, Generation Y are more concerned with their day-to-day life in the short term and want work–life balance, so they may require different career paths and incentives.

Lucia Lorente, Director of Lovells Madrid office, commented that ‘Law firms are swapping their hierarchical structures of the past for a more open approach. Our office has a culture of open doors. Whilst the new generation are less concerned with their long term career, we must not forget that they have much more than just a legal role to play.’

In contrast Manuel Liedo, General Counsel of Metrovacesa, remarked that ‘Lawyers, as professionals, do not like hierarchy. But, within a company, they must work with hierarchy.’

Juan Francisco San Andres of Gómez-Acebo & Pombo, a former senior HR professional within IT company Oracle, took the view, however, that ‘Law firms need to build a meritocracy.’

High lawyer turnover

Participants noted that changes in society and working practice would inevitably result in a higher turnover of legal staff in both business and law firms.

However, Javier Mourelo, Director of Training and Development at Clifford Chance, remarked that, ‘We should not necessarily see staff turnover as negative. New people bring new ideas and innovation to a business.’ He suggested that the important issue was knowing which people you could or could not afford to lose.

Jochi Jimenez, General Counsel and Compliance Officer in Iberia for HCC Global Financial Products, agreed. Having spent time at a top US law firm, he observed that ‘The level of turnover was high. By year seven, those who were not heading for partnership would leave, but they would easily find interesting work elsewhere.’

Some concluded that Generation Y lawyers may be more content within a business than within a law firm. ‘We have to motivate lawyers with a decent salary, but that is not enough. What else can we offer? Above all, an enjoyable job and a rewarding work environment,’ said Manuel Liedo.

Marí­a Jesus González Espejo of PromoMadrid, who has published a book on HR for lawyers, moderated the debate and summarised the key points by emphasising the importance of understanding Generation Y and providing a meritocratic company or firm structure. She pointed out that turnover could be positive and noted that leadership and management training could help firms attract and retain the best.


‘There has been considerable change in recent years and the need to properly manage human capital is a key priority. Those that adapt best to the changes will have a distinct advantage over their competitors,’ she concluded. Click here to access the full report and photographs.

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