Recruiting Strategy: Project Professionals and Client Retention

Recruiting Strategy:  Project Professionals and Client Retention 

One of the greatest impacts to a law firm or law department’s success comes from an increased focus on strategic lawyer staffing. According to a national legal survey, 77% of law firms that changed their strategic approach to lawyer staffing reported an increase in profits per equity partner, in the same survey general counsel reported greater agility to meet changing business demands.   

Strategic lawyer staffing is based on an organization’s mission, values and client demand. One of the more successful trends in strategic lawyer staffing is the use of project lawyers. Hiring project lawyers is now commonplace. Many firms and law departments realize if they are not employing project lawyers as part of their strategic hiring policy, they are probably over-staffed.

Here are the most common reasons organizations turn to project lawyers:

  • The workload has increased enough to make your team feel overworked, but not enough to justify hiring another attorney.
  • As corporate counsel, you assigned major litigation to outside counsel and were astounded when you received the first bills for discovery. 
  • You took on a matter that made such extraordinary demands on your time for several months that you felt you were neglecting other matters. 
  • An issue outside your area of expertise arose for a client and neither you nor anyone else on staff had time to explore it adequately.
  • You needed someone to assist you in a second chair role during a complicated trial. 
  • You (or co-worker) want to take parental leave, vacation or even a sabbatical. 
  • Your corporate law department or government agency does not have the budget for another employee, but do have discretionary funds available to hire temporary attorneys to handle overload work. 
  • You have a specific cleanup project, after a merger or a reorganization
  • You have a merger, deal, or contract where industry expertise is needed only until the matter is complete.

The use of temporary staff is a known concept for the legal profession.  Although a known concept, still prevalent are the long outdated myths, namely:

  • Temporary attorneys can’t find permanent jobs and accept temporary jobs as a last resort 
  • Temporary attorneys produce inferior work as compared to permanent attorneys
  • Temporary attorneys pose a threat to permanent staff attorneys
  • Temporary attorneys are not as committed to projects as outside counsel
  • Temporary attorneys don’t do anything to support the bottom line

Of course, successful firms and law departments know that all of these common myths are just that, myths, and all have been proven false.  After all, hiring a temporary lawyer successfully requires the same rigor one would use when hiring a permanent team member.  

Perhaps the myths linger due to the titles used to identify the temporary lawyer.  The title of Temporary or Contract or Project could be viewed as slightly demeaning and could support the mythical inference of lacking expertise, subpar, or not to be taken seriously.  As use of temporary attorneys becomes mainstream, more appropriate titles may be: 

  • Interim (a term commonly used in the C-Suite) 
  • Guest  (as in guest professor, or  guest lecturer) 
  • Adjunct (most lawyers speak highly of their former adjunct professors)  

What would it mean for an experienced lawyer who is choosing the professional career track of a project lawyer to be referred to as a Guest, Interim or Adjunct Lawyer?  Yes, the use of temporary attorneys is known, myths and all, yet the new norm is an individual choosing to work as a project lawyer as their professional career track.  

One reason the trend of using project lawyers is turning into the new norm is the economy.  Although the economy is and has bounced back, organizations are still aware of their bottom line and still want to run lean.  

The Hidden Potential of a Project Attorney 

The use of project attorneys can result in measurable cost savings to an organization.  Cost savings may include:

  • A retaining lawyer can charge the client the regular rates of the organization which are often more than it is paying to a contract lawyer 
  • There is no cost for employee benefits
  • A firm can keep work inside the firm vs. referring it out
  • A law department can handle work inside the department instead of paying outside counsel rates
  • Allows for agility and scalability – only paying for labor/work when it is needed

Also, organizations realize there is a tremendous amount of talent that is available in the career project lawyer realm.  

  • Baby boomers –seasoned professionals who may have retired from their long-time career positions but still want to work, provide value, contribute, and mentor in a more flexible manner.  These folks are experts in their field and expand an organization’s bench strength
  • Parents of young children.  Professionals who have earned their stripes and know what they are doing, but want to lead a more balanced and flexible life 
  • People who are experienced and enjoy travel or other hobbies to which they want to dedicate a significant amount of time
  • New generations (Y, Z) who “work to live” and do not want to work in the traditional “8 to 5” way


Clearly, the use of Project lawyers is a solution that makes sense in today’s economic climate. Talon recommends the following to ensure a successful experience when using project legal professionals:  

1) Hire the right professionals with the right background and training. Be clear on the expertise you need, and the background, training, and experience needed to get the desired work product.  Additionally, hire to match the vision, mission and values of your organization and your team.  

2) Integrate contract attorneys. Just as it’s crucial to orient and integrate all new hires, firms and in-house legal departments will likewise benefit from integration of project professionals.  

3) Have a plan. Determining the expectations of the project, the communication flow, and the report structure will help determine the project parameters.  This will help determine the expertise, the experience and the duration of the project.  

Project Professionals – A Differentiator

In today’s complex employment and economic environment, a permanent hire does not always meet your organization’s or client’s needs.  Firms and corporations need to think not only about how project legal professionals (attorney, paralegal, compliance) can help save them money, but also how they can start making them money.  Offering staffing that meets your organization’s needs is vital to client and talent acquisition and retention.