In-House Counsel, An Attractive Alternative?
The first alternative for many lawyers who have decided that practicing in a firm is not the way for them to find success, prosperity, and personal fulfillment is to consider moving to an in-house counsel position.
I worked as an in-house counsel for three years. It was a great experience and lead to many lasting relationships and future business. That job propelled me to equity partnerships in 2 Am Law 100 firms. But, the hours were every bit as long as in Big Law. And, the stress was just as high.
What To Focus On Before You Consider An In-House Counsel Position
It is imperative for a lawyer to realize their strengths, passions, and interests. They must also have a vision of their ideal career path before they consider whether an in-house position will be the next step on their career path. A lawyer with little interest in business or in working as part of a team to achieve business goals will not be happy or successful in most in-house counsel positions. A lawyer focused on how law fits into the bigger picture of business objectives and strategy will be happier and more successful as in-house counsel than in a law firm.
Knowing your priorities is also critical before considering an in-house counsel position. It is not enough to realize you are unhappy and unfulfilled in your current position. You need to examine why, and what you can change so you can follow a career path to more success, prosperity, and personal fulfillment.
Are you suffering from the long hours required in your current position? Consideration of in-house counsel opportunities may be an alternative although many in-house positions now demand Big Law hours. Do you desire to be more involved in the decisions and strategy around your legal work? In-house counsel positions provide more opportunities to interact with the decision makers and influence the decisions.
What In-House Counsel Do
In-house positions differ, from small start-ups or local business to Fortune 100 companies. The work environment ranges from traditional 9 to 5 jobs to work schedules every bit as frenetic and long as the most harried law firm attorney.
Traditionally, in-house jobs did not pay as much as law firms for similar work. The trade-off was thought to be fewer hours and no pressure to generate business. Today, the fewer hours’ part of the equation is not as stable. While there is no pressure to produce business in the rainmaker sense, there is still a need to generate business internally for your services. In-house counsel still earns less than their contemporaries in law firms. But, senior-level in-house counsel have opportunities for significant bonuses and profit-sharing arrangements.
Lawyers practicing in law firms have more freedom to set their schedules daily. Many of you will say, “What freedom, I’ve got partners making demands and clients calling to disrupt my schedule.” Well, whatever freedom you have to set your schedule, it is much harder to do when your client may be a few offices away. They can drop by to discuss their matter or request a quick review of something that has just come up.
Work expected from an in-house lawyer can vary widely. From lawyers focused on specific tasks such as analyzing the transfer tax implications of individual cross-border transactions, to general counsel responsible for all legal matters from transactions to litigation. General counsel may even handle non-legal matters.
A key responsibility of in-house counsel is to be the conduit between the business people and outside counsel. You need to know the business objectives of the company and the terminology used in the industry. You also must be able to communicate business objectives and goals to outside counsel. You need to know the legal practice areas and terminology to evaluate the performance of outside counsel and communicate the needs of outside counsel to the business people. You will be asked to explain the risks involved in particular legal strategies.
Finding In-House Counsel Positions
It is easier to find an in-house position after you have a few years’ experience practicing in a law firm. Businesses usually prefer their legal staff to be trained before hiring them for in-house positions. A lawyer’s prior training and experience will dictate the in-house positions they will most easily find. Litigators will not find many positions in businesses with little litigation, and transactional lawyers will not be in demand unless the company has a substantial volume of transactions. If you are a lawyer who has specialized in FDA matters, potential in-house opportunities are limited to those companies regulated by the FDA.
As a restructuring lawyer, my in-house opportunities were limited since most businesses don’t need bankruptcy or workout lawyers on a long-term basis. However, I worked as an in-house counsel for a few years with a company whose business focused on buying and selling distressed loans.
There is tension between specialization and general practice in the corporate world. Many businesses need lawyers with very specialized knowledge and experience. Knowledge of specific tax and regulatory issues, particular kinds of transactions or certain types of litigation may be crucial for some businesses. For other businesses, they are looking for lawyers with the broad knowledge and experience to analyze and advise on a wide variety of legal issues faced by the company. The more senior the position in the legal department, usually the broader the knowledge and experience required.
In-house lawyers are expected to be knowledgeable about the industry or industries where the company operates. You will deal with people in the business units much more frequently and in more depth than outside counsel. You will often be part of the internal business team. Companies want their in-house counsel to be knowledgeable about business in general, and the company’s industry and business in particular.
What are your priorities? Is an in-house counsel position in your future?
ABOUT GREG YATES:
I am a Keynote Speaker, Author, Business Owner, and Lawyer Career Transition Expert.
I started a career consulting practice serving lawyers and other professionals after a successful career as a practicing attorney.
Before starting my professional career consulting business, I was a:
• Equity partner at two of the largest law firms in the country
• Rainmaker who developed an annual book of business of over $3.5 million
• Winner of the Turnaround Management Association Turnaround of the Year – Large Company 2011
• Lawyer in a small boutique firm
• In-house counsel for a publicly-traded investment firm, and
• Manager at a Fortune 500 company and several small businesses
I now work with other lawyers to help them find their perfect job and create their ideal career to achieve success, prosperity, and personal fulfillment.
The post “In-House Counsel Position, Is It For You?” appeared first on the Greg Yates Consulting website.