To add to a team is much easier for a department that hires a lawyer than to carve out a new role

It is easier to bring a lawyer into a department that already has one or more lawyers already in that person’s practice area than it is to bring in the first lawyer of a kind. This common-sense proposition came to my attention from Boris Groysberg, Chasing Stars: The Myth of Talent and the Portability of Performance (Princeton Univ. 2010) at 133, where he talks about exploitation of existing competencies compared to exploration of new competencies.

A law department’s first employment lawyer, by way of example, faces a daunting task of setting policies, reviewing an unknown collection of agreements, meeting clients, determining priorities. The second HR lawyer who joins that first one has a much smoother path.

For this reason, larger law departments have an advantage, since they do much more exploitation – build on existing expertise and knowledge – than exploration – establish a new practice area. Related to this idea is the notion of core competencies. The more a department focuses on what is most important for it to handle, the more it will bring in bolt-on talent to exploit as compared to pioneer talent to explore.

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