Secondments as a BD Strategy?

June 7, 2021

While the pandemic caused many businesses to flounder or tank, Clorox unsurprisingly saw a 500% increase in business last summer as sales of its cleaning products surged. Concerned consumers were sterilizing everything from light switches to potato chip bags. This unexpected boom in business forced the company to expand in more ways than one. To adapt to the growth, Clorox’s legal department relied more than it ever had before on a secondment program, bringing lawyers from its outside firms in-house to help the company manage the workload. Doing so allowed Clorox to develop a more flexible staffing and talent model. According to the company’s Legal Chief Angela Hilt, the arrangement also benefited those outside counsel. “Firms that can provide us with secondees at reasonable rates are going to have an edge in doing business with us going forward,” Hilt said.

Which got us wondering: Could firms be doing more to use secondment arrangements not just to meet client needs but also to deepen existing relationships and develop new business?  

Secondment arrangements are not without complications. Hiring a lawyer from a firm to work on a full-time, fixed-price basis for a set period requires a well-structured plan. The general counsel overseeing the arrangement will need to consider billing, tracking performance assessment and fees. It can take time for the attorneys to adjust to the change in workplace culture (even if they are simply making the transition from one remote environment to another). Secondees need to integrate into the corporation’s business and legal teams, and acclimate to the company’s values.

But when the correct procedures are in place, both parties benefit. According to Hilt, secondees have an “opportunity to get to know us better.” There’s no better way to understand your client’s needs — and therefore be better positioned to develop your relationship with them — than to spend months working alongside them. Here’s how to position your firm for secondment opportunities:

  1. Gather information on any secondment arrangements your firm has made in the past. What were the pros and cons? How were the fees and costs structured? How did you help secondees reintegrate into the firm when they returned? Pull together lessons learned to structure potential future arrangements.
  2. Take advantage of external programs already in place. For example, this one managed by the MCCA supports diverse attorneys. But also be prepared to build bespoke arrangements that suit your current clients.
  3. Communicate about secondment arrangements with clients. They may not know your firm is willing to do this kind of work, and the client may not be aware of all the potential benefits.

Used carefully, secondment arrangements may be an effective part of your firm’s business development strategy.