Depending on the specific job, an in-house attorney can handle any or all of the following: the legal aspects of day-to-day business operations, negotiating and formalizing deals, defending (or managing the defense of) the organization in litigation matters, or providing proactive legal advice to help the organization avoid legal problems.
While most lawyers who move in-house end up working in a corporate legal department, some in-house lawyers secure compliance or risk management positions. Although most compliance positions don’t necessarily require a law degree, your J.D. can be enormously helpful and make you more competitive as a candidate.
Corporate legal departments can range in size from one to several hundred. Approximately 60% of legal departments are five attorneys or fewer. In a staff of two or more attorneys, you can expect to find a general counsel, an assistant general counsel, and anywhere from one to a handful of specialized staff attorneys. Smaller legal departments tend to hire “generalists” who can handle a wide range of legal issues for the organization.
Your Qualifications and Experience
In-house jobs are highly sought-after and extremely competitive. Many law firm attorneys view them as a way to escape the pressures of billable hours and the long workdays of firm life. While in-house work generally does not require lawyers to bill time, there are often other productivity pressures to consider, and these jobs, while clearly offering many benefits, are not necessarily the panacea for long hours that they have been in the past.
Lawyers who practice in-house usually have had at least four years of work experience. While some legal departments will consider entry-level candidates, the bulk of hiring is lateral.
One of the biggest challenges facing law firm attorneys in their quest to move in-house is a lack of actual in-house experience. More companies are stating a preference for candidates with prior in-house experience, producing a catch-22 for law firm attorneys at every level.
In recent years, some alternative legal service providers like Axiom Law have created an avenue for experienced law firm lawyers to gain that elusive in-house experience. These providers “loan out” lawyers to corporations (e.g., to cover a medical or maternity leave).
In some cases, these temporary assignments can turn into full-time employment; however, that situation is rare and should not be expected.
Finding Your Roles
There are several ways to go about locating in-house searches. One strategy is to reach out to legal recruiters who specialize in in-house positions. Another is to search the sites of your target companies, as well as your firm’s job database for alumni, if your firm has one.
Assess your qualifications and readiness to go in-house. What is one thing you think you need to work on?