Should COVID19 Change Your In-House Hiring?

As general counsel of your organization during this pandemic, you are likely overwhelmed with myriad issues.  Most likely, you are fielding questions and making decisions ranging from how to create and communicate a coronavirus health and safety policy for company employees, to how you can ensure that your company has the technology for telework.  Moreover, Congress just passed a number of pieces of legislation in response to the pandemic.  You must make sure that you understand and implement any new provisions that may apply to your organization.

With all of that going on, it can be very tempting to put the hiring process for your legal department on hold.  We understand.  You want to be judicious in how you apportion your time.

Yet, keep in mind that you should be careful not to let immediate needs entirely block those long-term issues that are smoldering out there on the horizon.  Losing that “30,000 foot” view of your legal department, and your organization, could be costly.

In fact, this health crisis may actually be creating new, and unexpected, in-house hiring demands in the short term.  And, of course, those in-house positions that you want to fill in the long-term will still need to be filled when we ultimately get past the current crisis.

Accordingly, in this article, we are going to discuss why implementing a hiring freeze may not be the best option for your organization, and we will also give you some helpful tips on how you can manage your hiring process in these challenging times.

A.     It Would Be Unwise to Freeze All Hiring Because of the Coronavirus

As noted, there is an understandable inclination to put a hard stop on all hiring in a crisis like the one we are facing.  Yet, your organization still has business-critical needs.  Specifically, companies nationwide have been urgently seeking legal support in the areas of employment law, health care law, commercial contracts, bankruptcy law, and insurance coverage.

Of course, you can engage outside counsel for some of those matters.  Yet, at some point, it makes fiscal sense to bring those functions in-house.  That is particularly true today because the health crisis is expected to be with us for many, many months. Indeed, some of our clients have told us that they are no longer sending work to outside counsel. A quick analysis would be if your outside counsel spend is more than $350,000 annually that dollar amount would cover salary and benefits for a lawyer compensated at approximately $200-300K. And remember, that is a lawyer that can be cross-trained in a number of areas so that she/he brings real value to your organization.

In sum, try not to let the pressing issues of today cloud your thinking about the long-term, structural requirements for your legal department.

B.     Be Careful Not to Wait Until Your Needs Become Critical

John F. Kennedy once said “The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining.”  It is a great quote that, in our in-house hiring context, can help remind us that worst time to hire a new in-house counsel is when your organization is in desperate need of someone.  The pressure typically leads to a rushed, skewed process; possibly fewer qualified candidates; and an oftentimes less-than-optimal conclusion to a search.

That is all to say that, even though putting a pause on some hiring decisions may be necessary, you should be sure not to wait too long to focus on critical in-house hiring. Here’s a road map of the stakeholders and communication plan you may to review:  Know Your Legal Hiring Plan and Create a Proven Communication Strategy

C.     Use This Time to Plan for a New Normal

While not freezing hiring altogether, you may find that you have a little more capacity for some strategic thinking with regard to human resources during these next few months.  Knowing the legal challenges that your organization is beginning to face because of the coronavirus, and the obvious future legal issues you will invariably confront in the aftermath, you can use this time to plan for those hiring needs.  To assist you with the planning process you may want to refer to, Recruit to Your Official Legal Team Plan

So, take a look at your previous hiring plan, and be flexible in altering it based on current events.  As you look to the future, consider whether certain parts of your company will no longer require the same level of legal support.  Conversely, assess whether you currently require additional support in employment law, insurance coverage, and in renegotiating contracts.  As always, good planning will pay dividends down the road.

D.    What About Those In-House Attorneys Who Are Currently in the Hiring Pipeline?

Interestingly, in today’s market some companies and large law firms have not changed their hiring trajectory much at all.  They have merely shifted to phone and video interviews rather than in-person ones.  Thus, those companies are able to move candidates through the pipeline pretty much as normal.

Other companies, however, may not have the ability to keep the process going, and cannot effectively on-board and train incoming hires.  If you are experiencing some hurdles with regard to those candidates in the pipeline, then your goal should be to ensure that you keep them engaged and interested while your legal department determines how it will move forward.

One option is to complete the offer process to a candidate to whom you were about to make an offer, but delay his or her onboarding until the health crisis has been contained.  For those candidates who are earlier in the hiring process, you may want to simply make sure that you communicate the issues your organization is currently experiencing, and keep the communication lines open.

You will maintain trust and strengthen your organization’s attractiveness to candidates by being honest and straightforward with them.  As you can expect, candidates will not look favorably on your organization if they perceive you as vanishing from the process, or you fail to return their calls or emails.  Some of our clients recognize that even in the midst of this crisis there is an opportunity to demonstrate to the business community and to potential hires that they have a plan and are confident in their business model. Those companies are leading with confidence and differentiating themselves. You can be sure that the legal community takes notice of which companies are confident and resilient and which are not.

E.     Check on Your Technology Resources

To move forward with some hiring activities, you should check to see that your tech resources are appropriate to the task.  One of the biggest, and quickest, shifts that we have seen in the hiring process is the move to phone and video interviewing.

So, be sure to leverage the technology available to your legal department in order to keep your interview process going forward as much as possible.  We do have the good fortune to have so many technological tools available to us so that we can remain connected even while being forced to stay at home.  Thus, be sure that you make the most of your tech so you can continue to hire.

Practice videoconferencing with family, friends or colleagues and expect that the first time or two may be awkward for both parties. There are multiple resources on how to use the technology depending on which platform your company deploys.


This current health crisis has put us all into uncharted waters.  We are dealing with new information and new challenges every day.

  1. Even though there are plenty of unknowns, that does not mean that you need to bring your in-house hiring to a complete stop. Maintaining momentum on current hiring initiatives is profoundly important.
  2. Those long-term hiring requirements you have been planning for will still be there when we come out of this crisis.
  3. The crisis itself will likely bring into focus some new hiring needs that you must address. Accordingly, be flexible as you keep your organization moving forward and, in the meantime, stay safe and healthy.