Moving in-house is a big step; make certain you understand the pros and cons.
Given the myth that in-house legal careers always provide a better lifestyle with shorter hours, it’s no wonder that some attorneys are disappointed when they finally make the switch from law firm attorney to in-house counsel. Others with realistic expectations, however, find it is exactly what they want.
To ensure that you have the full picture before deciding on that make-or-break move, here are a few of what are generally considered to be pros and cons of working in-house. Of course, something that could be a pro for one attorney may be a con for another.
One client. As in-house counsel, you essentially have one client — the company. This could be a plus if you enjoy representing one client on a range of matters. This is in contrast to many law firms where you may focus on one type of matter for a range of clients.
Increased involvement in business matters. In-house positions frequently offer an ideal base from which to gain both legal and non-legal experience, as in-house counsel are often more involved in the business end of corporate matters.
The Big Picture. Would you rather focus on the big picture or on the details of specific matters? In-house positions, especially higher level roles, often focus on the big picture (overall goals) in contrast to law firm attorneys who may tend to focus more on the details. This is more likely to be the case in-house when you have a role overseeing outside counsel.
Fewer training opportunities. The majority of in-house positions do not offer the level of training that law firms offer. This is of particular concern for junior associates who have yet to develop a full skill set, especially for those who ultimately want to return to law firm practice. Those attorneys may not be able to compete later in their careers with law firm associates who have more training.
Fewer clients. With only one client, the company itself, in-house legal positions are dependent on the prosperity of the company. Consider very carefully whether you want to put your career in the hands of a single company’s success — or lack thereof. Additionally, if you prefer working with a range of clients, working in-house will not usually offer that opportunity.
Compensation. Many candidates moving in-house will earn a lower base salary than they did at their law firms. Fortune 500 companies can offer generous (multimillion-dollar) compensation packages to their General Counsels and Chief Legal Officers, but most in-house opportunities are not at that level of seniority or are with smaller companies. Often, however, compensation packages include year-end bonuses that help offset decreased salaries.
Not always a 40-hour week. Many attorneys are surprised to learn that in-house attorneys can work as many hours as some law firm associates bill, though maybe less than the top-billing associates. If you’re after that elusive 9-5 position, confirm the hours after you receive, but before you accept, the offer.
Taking an in-house counsel position involves an amount of risk, but it can be a rewarding option if you know what to expect. Do your research so that you can determine whether or not the risk is an acceptable one.