Los Angeles. (Photo: iStock) Los Angeles. (Photo: iStock)

The coronavirus outbreak has dampened corporate counsel hiring activity on the West Coast just as the region was surging into 2020 on the momentum of last year’s strong economy and candidate-driven in-house market. 

“We’ve seen that employers are taking more of a wait-and-see approach. Employers are still out there and looking to add head count, though in the past month or so that seems to have slowed down a bit compared to the past year,” said Lina Guo, a director of in-house recruiting for Major, Lindsey & Africa in San Francisco and Palo Alto.

She and two fellow in-house recruiting directors at Major, Lindsey & Africa, Kate Mullen of Seattle and Ashley McCall of Los Angeles, co-authored the firm’s 2020 West Coast In-House Legal Market Outlook. The report was published on Feb. 25, four days before health officials in Washington state confirmed the first death in the U.S. related to COVID-19. 

While the outlook might not be quite as optimistic as it was only a couple weeks ago, the West Coast remains a relatively strong market for in-house candidates, especially those with certain skill sets, according to the Major, Lindsey & Africa recruiters: 

  • In the Pacific Northwest, corporate counsel with experience in intellectual property, securities and commercial law are highly desirable. 
  • In the Bay Area, privacy lawyers who are well-versed in the California Consumer Privacy Act and European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation are in demand, as are corporate and securities lawyers. 
  • Southern California’s growing tech industry has created a strong market for low- and mid-level corporate counsel jobs, while privacy law expertise also is highly valued. 

Most highly experienced in-house leaders are “happy where they are,” but they have plenty of opportunities to go elsewhere, and they’re making sure their employers are aware of that fact, according to Guo. 

“These highly sought-after candidates are really leveraging their positions, driving hard bargains and negotiating for higher base [salaries] or total cash comp,” she said. “A lot of them are also looking for flexibility, whether it’s working remotely or more flexible hours. They’re also looking for good benefits in order for them to make a lateral move.” 

In order to lure away in-house talent, West Coast employers in industries across the board that had been reluctant to offer certain incentives, such as signing bonuses, “ultimately end up caving in,” Guo said. 

“It’s really hard to get that top candidate without going above and beyond what the market is offering,” she added.