Practice Area Demand for In-house Roles

Demand for FLEX-ible in-house roles. What we saw in Q1 and expect to see in Q2

The challenges experienced by technology and life sciences clients starting in mid-2022 continued through the first quarter of 2024. Layoffs, hiring freezes, and budget cuts in legal departments sometimes result in more openings for temporary contract roles. In 2023, however, even interim roles were restricted while many tech companies sought “efficiencies” by expecting their existing lawyers to do more without additional support. Leaves of absence and unexpected departures were typical exceptions that justified hiring interim support, but even those needs were sometimes absorbed by existing workforce.

As we look back on Q1, there are some signs of loosened restrictions on legal hiring and possible “green shoots.” Still, demand remained relatively flat with no clear indication of increased demand in the near future.

In this blog, we review the client requests in Q1 and share expectations for Q2.

Tech Transactions: Still Dominant

Tech Transactions has consistently ranked as FLEX’s most in-demand practice area, exceeding 50 percent of all engagements. Tech transactions include buying, selling, distributing, and licensing technology. Experience with Software as a Service (SaaS) and other cloud computing agreements is essential for many in-house tech transactions roles. FLEX partners with large enterprises and startups in the software, SaaS, hardware, consumer, fintech, and media spaces, among others.

Artificial Intelligence and its various applications continue to dominate discussions across all tech verticals, and keeping up to date with relevant legal rulings, regulations, and best legal practices will be essential for attorneys looking to take advantage of expanded opportunities in this area. More on that in our Q2 predictions.

Product and Privacy Counsel: Often Related and Broad in Scope

Product and Privacy consistently ranks second in demand to technology transactions. Almost all technology-focused product roles involve an element of privacy counseling. In many ways, product counsel act as generalists, providing the consistent advice needed to mitigate risk throughout every stage of the product development process, including privacy concerns. As in-house legal teams have become more streamlined, product counsel are expected to stay up to date on an increasing number of legal and regulatory frameworks, including those governing intellectual property, data privacy, and consumer protection, both domestically and internationally. With more businesses seeking to incorporate AI-driven tools and other emerging technologies into their offerings, and searching for ways to potentially monetize their data as traditional commercial demand ebbs, Product and Privacy counsel should remain crucial to in-house rosters across the tech industry.

Corporate Law: Relatively Slow, but Steady

Demand for traditional Corporate support was soft in Q1, like last year, compared to explosive growth over 2021 and early 2022. Where there was demand, client requests centered on private company generalists to advise on a broad range of matters. Fewer clients reached out for M&A transactions and IPO preparations. A growing number of businesses did rely on in-house corporate attorneys to provide guidance on new initiatives involving blockchain and AI technologies.

Life Sciences: Resilient

Biotech, medical device, and pharmaceutical companies must navigate an increasingly complex and constantly changing regulatory landscape, making access to counsel with deep, specific experience in the sector critical to their success. Life Sciences demand remained steady in Q1 after a slight increase in 2023 relative to prior years.

The best in-house life sciences attorneys bring a blend of health law-focused commercial, privacy, regulatory, and intellectual property experience to their work, leveraging this knowledge to structure transactions to support their company’s long-term business objectives, navigate the complexities of compliance, and safeguard intellectual property rights.

With AI and machine learning set to impact nearly every aspect of healthcare and raise uncharted legal grey areas, we expect life sciences to remain one of FLEX’s most in-demand practice areas for the foreseeable future.

Q2 expectations

If we use the stock market as an indicator, megacap technology companies are showing strength and resilience in 2024. While high interest rates and fewer funding options challenge some smaller technology and life science companies, the strength of major players in the AI space could continue to support improved tech performance throughout the rest of 2024. Thinly staffed legal departments will likely need reinforcements.

Speaking of AI, we can confidently expect that AI buzz, application, and legal developments will continue to be prevalent through 2024. That will likely translate into more in-house roles for lawyers who stay current and can advise clients on the impact of AI technology and associated legal issues. Experience with commercial agreements, product development, privacy, intellectual property, and compliance will be particularly relevant.

As we review Q1 and look forward to Q2, the broad category of technology transactions will likely remain the main area of demand for FLEX, with privacy, product, life sciences, and corporate roles remaining steady. While there have typically been fewer requests for patent, trademark, employment, or litigation support, changes in the economy could drive needs in those areas as well.

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