A conflict that many attorneys face in their career is to choose between a law firm and an in-house role. This big decision requires careful consideration of a variety of factors.
A law firm exposes young lawyers to many aspects of the law. New attorneys ”learn by doing” and are under the supervision and mentorship of senior partners.
Most importantly, you get a unique and exciting opportunity to develop a specialty and build a client list.
However, the excessive work hours and the endless paperwork will begin to take a toll on you after a few years. Every lawyer experiences burnout at one point or the other.
That’s when the prospect of joining a company’s in-house legal team can seem enticing.
Working in-house and at the law firm, both have their own pros and cons. The trick is to determine which environment suits your lifestyle and compliments your skill the most.
Consider the following pointers before making the big leap.
The legal issues at a standard firm can be repetitive. For a wider, more diverse range of problems, in-house work is the better option.
So what is a chief compliance officer or in-house counsel’s role, and why is it different from a law firm attorney’s responsibilities?
Members of the in-house legal team are considered generalists, unlike attorneys at a law firm who tend to be specialists. They must advise management as well as different departments on varied issues.
The attorneys at law firms learn to recognize the legal issues in contracts and agreements.
But an in-house counsel works more closely with the organization to establish business terms, identify legal issues, and reduce business risk to an optimum level.
Since they are accountable for such a wide range of matters, efficiency is highly valued in in-house lawyers.
However, one job in-house attorneys may not do much of is litigate. Corporates often turn to outside counsel for assistance during a trial.
This is because in-house counsel already handle a wide variety of tasks on a day-to-day basis. They can’t spare the time to prepare for a trial.
Going in-house can change a lawyer’s career path.
It can expose you to significant management responsibilities, compliance and regulations, inner-workings of a specific business or industry, and the chance to work with people outside of the legal sphere.
Your scope for promotion in or out of a legal department widens. It can also lead to opportunities at other organizations in the future. Many companies seek lawyers with ‘in-house experience’ when hiring for senior-level positions.
A firm rarely provides its lawyers the opportunity to enhance their professional skills and knowledge outside of their specific practice area.
However, a law firm provides its young lawyers with a safety net. There is always a senior member to watch over and monitor you.
No matter how big your responsibility is, your supervisors will protect you from screwing up too badly.
There is a common perception that an in-house counsel doesn’t have to work late nights or on weekends. This is true to some extent since they only have the demands of one client to meet.
However, during a time of crisis, in-house counsel will be expected to put in as many hours as necessary to get things done.
Nonetheless, they tend to have more flexible working arrangements, whether it is around children or elderly parents, and a more balanced work life.
The prospect of making big bucks is what lures many young lawyers to law firms. The money comes at a price, though.
You’ll face a steep learning curve during the first few years in a firm. New associates have reported working 60 to 80 hours a week.
The financial success of a firm depends upon how they bill the client. Big firms often charge their client by a tenth of an hour (every six minutes). Every minute that isn’t being billed is a lost time.
And since clients are the source of a firm’s livelihood, associates will eventually be required to bring new business.
This reluctance to recruit new clients or “make rain” is a significant factor for many lawyers in deciding the transition from law firm to in-house roles. Not having to worry about billable hours is another great relief.
If you’re currently into practice, you may experience your compensation take a dive after joining a corporation’s legal department.
But considering the health benefits and deferred compensation (stock options and bonuses), you may be able to bridge the gap in the long run.
Given a history of often being in charge while working in a firm, you may take some time adjusting to your new role in a corporation.
Working in-house can be vastly different from working as a lawyer in a firm. The compliance and regulatory aspects dictate your decisions within a company.
Further, how a legal department is perceived by the executive managers and business units can be critical to an in-house lawyer’s job satisfaction.
Moving in-house is often perceived as a significant risk or a leap of faith. However, it has less common nowadays to stay in the same organization for more than a few years.
The ebbs and flows of the current economic landscape have certainly reflected on the permanency of professionals in the legal domain. In such cases, working in-house may give you more stability than working in a law firm.
Employees working in the legal department are often the last to be laid off by a company.
Making The Switch
The choice to work in-house or at a law firm is a very personal decision based on an individual analysis.
Accepting more personal responsibility in an in-house role comes with a different kind of stress. Also, it may be difficult to return to practice later on.
But if you feel that an in-house job is more suitable for you, the best time to look for it is after getting three to five years of hands-on experience at a private firm.
Do some research on the corporations you would like to work for and send out your resume.
Going over a few chief compliance officer resume examples can help you prepare a stellar resume to propel you ahead of your competitors.