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In House Legal Practice

Opportunities to work in-house in most cases arise after at least three or four years of practice. Many experienced attorneys consider these possibilities at some point during their careers. Before deciding to pursue in-house opportunities, attorneys should carefully consider what it means to practice in-house and how it differs from law firm or public sector practice.  For a further discussion about in-house practice, refer to Chapter 1 in the YLS CDO Guide Lawyers in Business.


Considering Going In-House:

Attorneys who practice at law firms usually cite two reasons for considering the transition. First is the opportunity to gain greater control over work hours. While in-house attorneys still work long hours, they often are able to better predict their schedules because they have a greater sense of impending projects. Moreover, in-house attorneys have the advantage of sending work to outside counsel.


Second is the opportunity to become a stakeholder in a business, rather than just an advisor. Attorneys at law firms represent many clients while an in-house attorney has only one client. By focusing on a single client, in-house attorneys become more familiar with the client’s needs and ultimately more engaged in the business. In-house attorneys get involved with deals or litigations earlier; and in addition to being looked to for legal advice, they are also considered business partners and may be looked to for business judgments.


Public sector attorneys may also consider moving in-house. The skills and knowledge that attorneys gain in public sector positions are often very valuable to private companies. Their reasons for moving in-house include such things as: the opportunity to become stakeholder in a private company, the ability to delegate work to outside counsel, and better compensation.


It is notable to mention that the reasons attorneys choose in-house positions are some of the same reasons others decide to move back to firms or public sector practice from in-house.  Attorneys may find that some of the more challenging work they enjoyed in their previous practice is now handled by outside counsel, and their role is now to manage the process. In addition, some attorneys cite that although the focus on one client gives more depth to their legal practice, they have lost the breadth and variety afforded by law firm practice.


Attorneys considering a move from a law firm into an in-house position should also consider the difference in compensation. The base salary of an in-house attorney will likely will be lower than an attorney with a similar number of years of experience at a law firm; however, the entire compensation package may include a fuller benefits package, stock incentives and an annual bonus. A final consideration for attorneys moving to an in-house legal group is that the group is not part of the business that generates income, as is the case at a law firm.  An in-house legal group is now part of the overhead of the company, and therefore in-house lawyers generally have fewer resources and are part of a much smaller team.


When considering the transition the best thing to do is start with research. Search the YLS Career Connections to find in-house lawyers who are willing to speak with you on an informational basis.  Ask them what they like about being in-house and find out how they spend their days. Inquire about the things they miss about their former practice and get their advice on where you might best fit in a corporate environment.


Finding the Right Opportunity:

Once you have made the decision to look for an in-house position, the next step is deciding the type of organization to target. As a potential business partner, it will be important for you to be excited enough about the industry that you will want to learn about how the company conducts business and how it stays competitive. Attorneys considering this move are encouraged to consider the following questions:

  • Do I look forward to learning about the intricacies and competitive landscape of this industry (e.g. investment banking, technology, consumer products, etc)?
  • What is the attorney’s role at this company?
  • How will going in-house change my practice? Am I comfortable with that type of change?
  • What types of specialty lawyers are in-house with this company?

 Finally do not underestimate the power of networking. Making the right connections through existing clients, trade organizations, bar associations or networking with YLS alumni can also successfully lead to an in-house opportunity.


Selected Resources:

Association of Corporate Counsel
Corporate Counsel

Media Industry Job Listings and News
Minority Corporate Counsel Association
2010 In-House Global Salary and Benefits Survey (compiled by Laurence Simons, International Legal Recruitment)