Currently, Paul Hastings has about 50 of its lawyers working in-house for a variety of clients—twice the amount it had in 2008. Secondments—an arrangement where a firm loans out lawyers to work in-house for a client for a period of weeks, months, or even a year—aren’t new, but they are on the upswing. According to our 2011 Law Firm Leaders Survey, 78 percent of respondents said they used them, up from 70 percent in 2010 and 60 percent in 2009.

The increase began during the recession, when both firms and clients were forced to lay off attorneys or implement hiring freezes. Clients had gaps they needed to fill in their legal departments, and law firms had less work for associates, “so it became a mutually beneficial relationship,” says Kim Koopersmith, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld’s managing partner. But the benefits of secondments have kept the practice on the uptick, even in better economic times, she says. Over the past year, Akin Gump has sent out increased numbers of secondees—ten mid-to-senior-level associates—with placements in a variety of sectors, including health care and energy. Shook, Hardy & Bacon also increased its secondments last year, sending mid-to-senior-level associates, along with of counsel, to work with 11 different clients, including Philip Morris USA Inc., Bayer Corp. USA, and The Coca-Cola Company.

And it’s not just midlevels that are being seconded. Paul Hastings has started seconding partners as well. In October 2010, corporate partner Scott Saks became the firm’s first partner secondee and spent six months working at UBS AG. “We’ve done a lot of litigation for UBS,” says Saks, a partner since 2006. “But we wanted to really crack open the corporate side, and a secondment seemed to make sense to strengthen that relationship.”

Salary arrangements vary on a case-by-case basis, but the client is typically billed at cost or at a deep discount. “We probably did more [secondments] at a reduced rate [during the recession],” says Keith Wetmore, the chair of Morrison & Foerster, and a former secondee himself. Barclays Capital currently has ten secondees, including two from Paul Hastings, and has had a couple of partners seconded recently. The secondee relationships have gone so well that in some instances the bank has hired the lawyers permanently. “What could be a better connection between the firm and the client?” asks general counsel Kevin Genirs.

Paul Hastings’s Saks says that his time at UBS has resulted in increased corporate work from the bank. And other banking clients have taken note. “They know we’re taking leveraged finance very seriously, and now other investment banks are reaching out and asking, ‘Can we get a secondee?’ ” —Irene Plagianos