Let’s get real. Our search firm’s 10 most recent client requests break down as follows: four securities attorneys, two intellectual property attorneys with mechanical engineering backgrounds, one corporate generalist, one employment law attorney, one patent litigator, and an attorney for an industry specific compliance position.

Do you see a theme? Nine of those 10 search orders were subject-matter specific. In another year defined by the oversupply of highly pedigreed generalists, the action, at least for us, came when law departments asked for help filling niche roles.

Perhaps my crystal ball is getting cloudy, but I predict a 2012 that looks just like 2011. Headcount among major corporate law departments was stable and static in 2011. I say ditto for 2012. The openings will come, once again, as people move around or retire.

Although it is fun to discuss how legal world is changing (for example, the possible imminent death of hourly billing), the employment picture for 2012 is relatively simple. For law departments, most of the demand will be about plugging specific holes.

Yet, when it comes to the general counsel chair, all bets are off. I referenced one corporate generalist search among our previous ten orders; that was a general counsel position. For the No. 1 role, CEOs want it all—business acumen, strategic thinking, managerial experience and a broad range of subject matter expertise. An appetite for implementing best practices and managing change comes into play. Frequently, companies fail to find or groom that leader internally, and so there is competition for candidates at the top of the ladder. Follow InsideCounsel’s Careers section, and you will see how often CEOs look for someone who has “been there and done that.”

One easy prediction for 2012 is that the role of GC will continue to grow in terms of influence and overall importance at major companies. New regulations continue to flow out of Washington, navigating legal mine fields overseas is essential and going over budget is no longer an option. The job is harder, but compensation at the top is excellent. The economic gap between the GC and the rest of his or her department will continue to widen. So, it makes sense that the job description at the top would be quite different from the hole-plugging needs arising within the rest of the law department pyramid.

My hiring advice for employers in 2012 is completely selfish, but also logical. The supply of law firm specialists has been cut dramatically over the past three years. Inside counsel are holding firm in their current jobs, so relevant lateral talent is in short supply as well. Add that up and then don’t be surprised when you are enormously frustrated by a self-sourcing approach based primarily on Internet postings. Ante up and use a good recruiter when your need is subject matter specific.

My advice for currently employed inside counsel going into 2012 depends on your end game. You know if you have the chops to be a GC or not. If you are currently a GC, or if you are reaching for that star, then embrace longer-term professional trends, especially those that come with some pain. The obvious example is truly disruptive technology. Understand the changes afoot with artificial legal intelligence and position yourself as someone who is capable of being a change agent. And attend one or more thought leadership conference this year, such as our 12th annual SuperConference.

My advice for any attorney who is unemployed right now comes down to a personal reality check. If you lack true specialization, or if you are hearing the word “overqualified” in your search, then widen your landscape immediately. Look nationally, especially in small markets. Leave the keys to your house with your lender if necessary. Taking contract attorney work or depleting your savings? That seems like an easy choice to me. Hanging a shingle? You know if you have rainmaking skills or not. I see too many good lawyers, many of whom I know personally and care about, try this route. The failure rate is extremely high. Understand your strengths and weaknesses and then, I implore you, don’t fool yourself. Get real about your options. For some of you, that may include a career change outside of law. The market as a whole will not digest the enormous oversupply of litigators and generalists.