Seven Good Reasons to Go In-House (If You Find the Right House)
There are any number of reasons lawyers give for leaving law firm practice in search of a legal position inside a company or other non-legal organization. But there are only so many reasons likely to make sense for any given attorney, so your best bet is to integrate at least three or four of the following if you want to make such a transition a successfully.
- You’re deeply Interested in a particular industry. You may be interested in “business” generally and while you are likely to get closer to a client’s business if that client becomes your direct employer, make sure you know the business inside and out if you’re basing a career change on this interest. Deep industry and/or institutional understanding is your value proposition (vis-a-vis otherwise highly talented but expensive outside counsel and those competing with you for the position).
- You thrive when focused on a single client. There’s something to be said for narrow focus. It can help you to achieve cohesiveness, depth and intimacy with a client, fostering a more meaningful relationship. The better you understand (and are personally aligned with) your client’s values and important priorities, the better job you’ll do addressing its needs.
- You want to see deals through from start to finish. While many professionals crave variety and action, you may prefer to get involved in a matter early and stay involved through its conclusion. Clients, often seeking to minimize costs, tend not to involve outside counsel until later in a transaction. In-house counsel see action earlier in the process, including involvement in planning and even business strategy, and carry forward that experience in advising the client with respect to future objectives.
- You dislike time sheets and billable hours. Few lawyers enjoy tracking and recording their time, but for some, the tedious and menial nature of this requirement (especially after a full 10- to 16-hour work day), along with the sometimes perverse incentives of the related quotas or minimums, is enough to make a lawyer cry “uncle!” If you don’t want to play that game, you may find that you would prefer to BE the client than BILL the client.
- You want to feel like part of “the team.” Many outside attorneys feel a shared sense identity of purpose with their clients, but the interests of a law firm and its clients are not necessarily identical and may even be at odds some of the time. If you value simplicity and clarity in your professional relationships, drawing your salary directly from your client may position you to do the most good with the fewest complications.
- You crave greater predictability in your schedule or better work-life balance. Not every in-house position offers greater transparency or flexibility when it comes to planning your personal life. Do your due diligence and, even more importantly, know yourself. Many in-house lawyers, faced with increased day-to-day responsibilities on behalf of the client, end up taking work home, especially if that was their wont as outside counsel. Going in-house won’t necessarily change your behaviors. But if more control and predictability is a priority, and you’re both willing and able to set boundaries with your employer, you may indeed find what you seek in-house.
- Your preferred career track winds through your clients, rather than being built upon them. The traditional path to success within a law firm is straight and narrow–from junior associate to senior associate to partner and beyond (if you’re lucky). This track doesn’t suit most people, let alone everyone. If your definition of career success is more nuanced or tied more to a particular industry or entrepreneurial ambition than the practice of law, you may find more fulfilling foundational opportunities in a corporate legal department or as an internal advisor to the management team of a non-profit organization.
Dedicating the time to contemplate and explore these questions is an excellent start. Every career choice, including the decision to go in-house, has pros and cons. In order to ascend, you must know yourself and network with people who have made similar moves, as well those who have made careers at firms because they have thrived as outside counsel.