Opportunities in business vary greatly from being an attorney within an in-house group to pursuing a non-practicing business role in the public or private sector. Alumni are encouraged to speak with a CDO counselor about the sorts of business roles in which they are most interested, and to work to create a job search strategy specific to those particular industries and roles.
The following section briefly discusses some of the most popular business careers pursued by YLS alumni, including in-house legal practice, consulting, finance, and non-profit management. For a more detailed discussion about business careers, you can refer to the CDO Lawyers in Business Guide.
In-House Legal Practice
Opportunities to work in-house in most cases arise after at least three or four years of legal practice. Many experienced attorneys consider going in-house 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.
Attorneys who practice at law firms usually cite two reasons for considering a transition to working in-house. 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 sometimes 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 become more engaged in the client’s overall business. In-house attorneys tend to get involved with deals or litigations at an earlier stage than law firm attorneys, and, in addition to being looked to for legal advice, in-house attorneys are often 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. These attorneys’ reasons for moving in-house include such things as the opportunity to become stakeholders in private companies, 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 to public sector practice from in-house roles. Attorneys may find that some of the more challenging work they enjoyed in their previous practice is now handled by outside counsel, and that their role is now to manage the process rather than to directly engage in it. In addition, some in-house attorneys report 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, an entire in-house compensation package may include a fuller benefits package, stock incentives, and an annual bonus. A final consideration for attorneys considering a move 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. You should also not underestimate the power of networking. Making the right connections through existing clients, trade organizations, bar associations, and other relevant professional relationships. Speaking with YLS alumni can also successfully lead to an in-house opportunity, so do utilize Career Connections, as well as other alumni networks, to find in-house lawyers who are willing to speak with you on an informational basis. Also reach out to other relevant professional connections you have made. Ask these in-house attorneys what they like about working in-house, how they spend their days, those things they miss about their former practice, and what advice they might have for you both about where you might best fit in a corporate environment and how you might best go about pursuing an in-house position.
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 exposure have I had to this industry through current or former work or education?
- 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?
Careers in Consulting
In the simplest definition, consultants give professional advice. In the broadest sense there are three types of consulting firms. First are the large management consulting specialists that offer primarily strategy consulting but are not specialized in any specific industry. Second, there are boutique firms which have consulting expertise in specific industries or technologies. Finally, there are large, diversified organizations that offer a range of services, in addition to a strategy consulting practice.
At the large management firms consultants tend to start as generalists, though they may specialize in later years. Business models at firms vary, but for many firms a large portion of the engagement, up to four days a week, is spent at the client’s site. Consulting therefore involves a large amount of travel; however, most firms will fly consultants home on weekends when feasible.
Consulting firms seek candidates with strong analytical and quantitative skills, teamwork capability, leadership, interpersonal skills, presentation skills, energy, flexibility, maturity, and creativity. Because the large consulting firms have offices around the world, they are also interested in candidates with strong foreign language skills. If you are interested in a career in consulting, you should reach out to alumni in this field via Career Connections to get advice and thoughts on possible pathways to entry. You should also consult other alumni networks. It also makes sense to reach out to any consulting firm clients for whom you have worked, where applicable, as well as to other relevant professional connections you may have.
Careers in Finance
The world of finance is appealing to some law graduates, typically those with business backgrounds, strong quantitative skills, and no fear of working long hours. Among the areas of finance to which YLS alumni have been especially drawn are investment banking, venture capital, private equity, and hedge funds. Each of these is discussed briefly below.
Investment banking positions are known for their competitiveness, work pressure, prestige, and huge salaries. The responsibilities of investment banking associates are similar to those of a corporate law firm associate, in that bankers negotiate on behalf of their clients, draft documents, and conduct due diligence. However, bankers also pitch new ideas for transactions and focus more on valuation. For these reasons, bankers tend to get involved in transactions at an earlier stage than corporate law firm associates. Generally speaking, investment banking associates work longer hours than law firm associates and management consultants (on average work 80-100 hours/week), and at a more hectic pace; however, bankers’ total compensation is usually higher. Analytical and quantitative skills are highly valued by these employers.
For alumni interested in investment banking, the first step is to learn about the industry. Keep abreast of current financial news and network with fellow YLS alumni in the banking field using YLS Career Connections as well as other alumni networks. Networking is extremely important to finding a position as an investment banker for a law school graduate. Take stock of the banking clients for whom you have worked, if applicable, and other relevant professional connections you have made. These will be invaluable when considering this career transition.
Venture capital firms invest their own money in companies in return for a hefty share of stock and future profits. Venture capitalists are more than financiers; they provide guidance, services, and support to the businesses in which they have invested, and expect to be treated as partners in the running of those businesses. The work of a venture capital firm includes selecting investments, completing the relevant transactions, and managing the investments.
Most venture capital firms are quite small, ranging from one to 40 people, and the entire industry represents a very small portion of people in the field of finance. The responsibilities of a venture capital analyst or associate often includes performing research and strategic planning, negotiating and working with investment bankers and acquirers of a company, raising more money from other equity sources, and negotiating with banks for debt financing.
Ultimately, the key to landing a job with a venture capital firm is networking. The most successful candidates will have experience in management consulting or investment banking, or expertise in a specific industry. As a result, you will likely have better success breaking into this field after a few years with another financial industry position. However, it makes sense to reach out to alumni in this field via Career Connections and other alumni networks to get advice and thoughts on possible pathways to entry. It also makes sense to reach out to any venture capital clients for whom you have worked, where applicable, as well as to other relevant professional connections you may have.
The goal of the private equity fund is to invest in a struggling company, improve the performance of that company, and then to sell the fund’s stake in that company at a profit. This may be done through an initial public offering (IPO) of the company’s shares, a sale to a private buyer, or asset stripping by which the company is broken up and its assets sold.
Jobs in private equity funds are divided into distinct areas, including number crunching, appraising and executing deals, originating deals, and support roles such as investor relations. Private equity firms make their money by selling their stakes in portfolio companies to corporate buyers, or by floating their stakes on the public market through IPOs. In addition, private equity firms make money through annual management fees.
Private equity funds do not employ many people and when they do, they look for experience in investment banking or strategy consulting. For junior number crunching positions, a strong financial background is required. For more senior roles, it is helpful if you can build a strong rapport with company executives and you have experience with strategy and the requirements of running a business. As with other finance jobs, networking is the key to securing a position. You should reach out to alumni in this field via Career Connections and other alumni networks to get advice and thoughts on possible pathways to entry. It also makes sense to reach out to any private equity clients for whom you have worked, where applicable, as well as to other relevant professional connections you may have.
The term hedge fund was originally used to categorize institutional investment partnerships that were able to hedge market exposure, but have evolved over time to employ a wide range of investment strategies. Hedge funds vary in size from as little as two employees to as many as 500 employees. A typical hedge fund will have the following departments: operations, accounting, trading, and risk and investor relations. The responsibilities of the employees in these departments vary depending on the size of the hedge fund and its work environment.
Most recent graduates interested in hedge funds are best suited for the analyst role. In general, analysts are expected to make trading recommendations on their own instead of as part of a large team. Employee compensation structures vary widely, but most investment professionals at a hedge fund earn a modest salary and a larger bonus, which is tied to their performance and/or the overall performance of the firm.
Most hedge funds seek to hire investment professionals with prior experience. Ultimately, you will likely need experience in another finance area before making the switch to a hedge fund. Nonetheless, you should reach out to alumni in this field via Career Connections and other alumni networks to get advice and thoughts on possible pathways to entry. It also makes sense to reach out to any private equity clients for whom you have worked, where applicable, as well as to other relevant professional connections you may have.
Attorneys seeking non-legal roles with non-profit organizations often consider management positions. In general, non-profit managers are responsible for administering non-profit organizations and increasing profits—not for investors and shareholders, but for the individuals to whom the organization is dedicated to helping. Because non-profit organizations often have limited resources, members of their senior management teams are valued for their ability to manage cross-functionally. Successful managers require strong leadership skills as well as an understanding of basic business concepts, such as accounting, marketing, and business administration.
Non-profit organizations will seek candidates that are passionate about the mission of their organization. In addition they value strong management, leadership and team-building skills, as well as strategy and/or consulting experience. If you are interested in pursuing this sort of work, you should reach out to alumni in this field via Career Connections and other alumni networks to get advice and thoughts on possible pathways to entry, as well as to any relevant non-profit organization clients for whom you have worked. Also consider reaching out to any other relevant professional connections you may have.
You may wish to take a look at the public interest page of the CDO site for alumni for a general overview of public interest careers, and additional resources.