Call Me Consigliere

While Phil’s been away at welding school, I’ve been getting schooled as well.

One of the delights of being an in-house attorney is that it’s the “last refuge of the generalist.” At any point in my day I may be handling contracts, regulatory work, labor claims, insurance issues, real estate financing, litigation, you name it. Now I can add restaurant franchising to that list.

For the past three years my bosses have been trying to put together one or more franchise deals; all failed until this one. At the end of September shit got real, and with a 30-day closing date I faced the prospect of doing three months’ work in one. Ok, no problem. I’ll just do my usual: bring in high-skilled administrative temps from my go-to temp agency, let’s call it Half-Bob.

It should have worked like a charm, but instead it barely worked. The temp market in the SF Bay Area is broken.

Of five high-skilled temps I brought in over four weeks, the first was good — but he got snapped up for a permanent position by another company. My error in not seeing that possibility and nailing him down first.

The rest of them sucked. This is extremely unusual.

In each case, within two days I knew I was in trouble. I needed my regular staff doing other things, but they were having to spend precious time re-instructing the temps and checking — and redoing — their work. Eventually it would become clear the presence of the temp was actually hurting us and I’d throw them back into the pond and bellow “send me another one!”

Bear in mind, I’ve used Half-Bob for a decade now. Their talent is always extraordinary, and I’m willing to pay top dollar for it. This time they sent me idiots. This has never happened before.

As a result, I spent the month of October averaging two to three hours sleep a night, one of my permanent staff (who is pregnant) ended up working herself into the hospital, and the rest pushed themselves to the wall. We got it done, but just barely.

One of Half-Bob’s higher-ups spoke with me candidly after this was all over, and by way of apology offered that we’re in a 3% unemployment market in the Bay Area (damn Silicon Valley boom), and of that 3% pool of available talent, 2/3 are “pretty much unemployable, that’s why they’re with a temp agency,” and so I’m reduced to hoping I get somebody in that top 1%. Gee, thanks, pal.

So what to do? We barely got the deal done and now I’m faced with legal and operational issues related to vendors, backend systems, making payroll for 900+ people, HR (don’t get me started on Obamacare) and all sorts of other franchise-related things that will require competent people to manage. I’m my bosses’ fixer, so failure’s not an option.

First thing I did was I gave my staff preemptive raises so I didn’t lose them. And we’re hiring. Which means I’m reading resumes and honors-thesis writing samples from major universities riddled with grammar and spelling errors….

For the first time in my life, I understand how productivity can grind to a halt due to a lack of available talent to hire. Because I’m living it.

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2 Responses to Call Me Consigliere

  1. Armageddon Rex says:

    I thought the legal profession was in downsizing mode. I hear stories of law schools reducing tuition and laying off teaching staff and the smallest incoming classes in decades. Is it housing prices keeping young lawyers out of the area? I can’t believe silicon valley is hiring all of them. Does the bay area need more attorneys?! If so I may steer my son toward law school. He stands to come into a paid off home in the East bay within a few years, so the home prices aren’t such a barrier for him… What do you recommend?

  2. Davidwhitewolf says:

    Ah, my error. Didn’t mean to imply I was getting attorney temps from Half-Bob. I’m the only attorney in my shop and I like it that way. I’ll consult with experts in various fields, or hire litigators to run a case, things like that.

    What I needed here (and what I’ve used Half-Bob for in the past) were highly-skilled administrative staff — preferably with experience working for law firms, attorneys, or in other positions involving confidential materials, with demonstrated success working with little or no supervision, sharp enough and bold enough to ask questions when they need to, and a long track record of getting things done with as few errors as possible. I’m willing to pay Half-Bob a premium to give me people with those qualities.

    I do agree there’s a glut of newly-minted lawyers, although Silicon Valley seems to be having a similar problem to what I’m facing in finding experienced talent– there are tons of job announcements for seasoned, experienced in-house attorneys as dot-com-boom 2.0 ramps up. I saw dozens of in-house counsel positions advertised in recent months for Uber, Amazon, etc.and I think many remain unfilled.

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