Work + Growth

Do You Have These Common Traits of an In-House Lawyer?

  • In-house lawyers tend to be more focused on making decisions, often quickly and with imperfect information
  • For corporate counsel it can be as much about managing various stakeholders’ expectations (and personalities) as the legal work
  • The mindset goes beyond researching and highlighting legal pitfalls to advancing business goals and finding practical solutions

If you’re coming from the modern law firm and thinking about going in-house, you should take into consideration the stark differences between these two work environments in deciding whether a move in-house makes sense for you.

While the list below is not exhaustive, it’s a helpful exercise to look at how closely your personality aligns with the common traits of in-house lawyers. The more you match, the more likely you are to thrive as corporate counsel.

You’re a decision-maker. You can make decisions quickly and are comfortable with some degree of uncertainty. You won’t have the luxury of time to research (or time to delegate the research of) every issue like you can at a law firm.

You’re capable of navigating the politics. You can handle, and navigate, the often intense politics inherent in working for multiple clients and constituents who may have diverging interests (even though everyone is technically part of a single organization).

You’re a self-starter and a fast learner. You’re ready, willing and able to learn new things, including the details of the business, the basics of how the organization earns its revenue and the relevant market and industry.

You’re business-savvy. You have enough business acumen and common sense to make practical, business-friendly decisions. Companies don’t want a professional naysayer who imposes legal roadblocks to every new idea. Rather, they need a thoughtful, creative lawyer who can offer workable solutions that balance business concerns with acceptable risks.

You have leadership potential. You’re comfortable managing and leading other people. This includes outside counsel, as well as people within the organization itself.

You’re confident and resolute. You’re comfortable saying “no” when justified, even to people who are important or senior – or who pressure you to say otherwise. This is especially true for compliance-related positions.

You’re a skilled communicatorYou don’t need to be – or need to have others think you are – the smartest person in the room. In a law firm, subject matter expertise is often prized above all else, but an in-house lawyer’s subject matter expertise is assumed, and what is valued more is the ability to listen, communicate complex information, forge collaborative relationships and inspire trust, all while getting things done for the company.

When have you used your communication skills to help you stand out?

If you check the box for most of these in-house qualities, then you’re on the right path in thinking you might be a fit for in-house roles. However, as you meet people and discuss available roles, be sure to drill down and get specific on the types of people and personalities that thrive in a particular corporate setting, since this will vary based on each company’s unique culture.