In-House Corporate Lawyer Taking Questions

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Kochel
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In-House Corporate Lawyer Taking Questions

Postby Kochel » Mon May 17, 2010 10:45 am

There's lots of discussion here about Biglaw and other job options for newly-minted JDs, but not a lot of talk about in-house work, which I prophesy will nonetheless be the destiny of many people currently posting on TLS. I'd be happy to try to answer questions from anyone who's curious about this sector.

Disclaimer: There are lots of varieties of in-house work, and while I like to think of mine as a typical in-house job, I can't offer universal advice. But I have also survived several years of Biglaw, and before that endured the HLS crucible, so hopefully I won't be too out-of-touch.

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of Benito Cereno
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Re: In-House Corporate Lawyer Taking Questions

Postby of Benito Cereno » Mon May 17, 2010 11:05 am

.,.
Last edited by of Benito Cereno on Mon May 17, 2010 12:18 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Kobe_Teeth
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Re: In-House Corporate Lawyer Taking Questions

Postby Kobe_Teeth » Mon May 17, 2010 11:08 am

What are the most notable differences between BigLaw and working in-house?

Which do you prefer?

If you were to switch jobs, would you go back to a firm or look for another in-house gig?

Kobe_Teeth
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Re: In-House Corporate Lawyer Taking Questions

Postby Kobe_Teeth » Mon May 17, 2010 11:09 am

How did you get this job? How much experience do you typically need?

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nixxers
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Re: In-House Corporate Lawyer Taking Questions

Postby nixxers » Mon May 17, 2010 11:10 am

no questions for now, but thanks for taking them!!

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CG614
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Re: In-House Corporate Lawyer Taking Questions

Postby CG614 » Mon May 17, 2010 11:19 am

For the business minded, is it possible to also be involved in business decisions, or is that kept completely separate. Would you need an MBA to get more involved in the operations of the company?

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kyleh02
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Re: In-House Corporate Lawyer Taking Questions

Postby kyleh02 » Mon May 17, 2010 11:32 am

Do you know of the market for working in-house at a Private Equity firm? If so, is a substantial amount of Big Law experience a necessity?

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NayBoer
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Re: In-House Corporate Lawyer Taking Questions

Postby NayBoer » Mon May 17, 2010 11:32 am

How big is your legal department in terms of attorneys and staff? What sort of work do you typically do, aside from interfacing with outside firms?

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nygrrrl
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Re: In-House Corporate Lawyer Taking Questions

Postby nygrrrl » Mon May 17, 2010 11:33 am

Kobe_Teeth wrote:How did you get this job? How much experience do you typically need?

This!

Kochel
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Re: In-House Corporate Lawyer Taking Questions

Postby Kochel » Mon May 17, 2010 11:37 am

of Benito Cereno wrote:what's the pay like vs biglaw scale?


Variable, of course, depending on the size of the company and on the industry. I think that beginning in-house lawyers can expect base pay of $100K-$175K. Then, depending on the industry, there are bonuses and equity components that can substantially add to the base pay. But don't expect substantial or reglar raises, certainly not on an annual basis. In aggregate, this means that Biglaw exiles typically take a pay hit once they move in-house. Pay tends to plateau once you've been in-house for a while; senior in-house lawyers can eventually approximate senior Biglaw associates' pay. General counsels, particularly at large companies, can pull in Biglaw partner-level pay.

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Re: In-House Corporate Lawyer Taking Questions

Postby Anonymous User » Mon May 17, 2010 11:41 am

How are the work hours for an in-house counsel compared to a biglaw attorney?

SBimmer
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Re: In-House Corporate Lawyer Taking Questions

Postby SBimmer » Mon May 17, 2010 11:48 am

Can one get an in-house job right out of law school?

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Re: In-House Corporate Lawyer Taking Questions

Postby Anonymous User » Mon May 17, 2010 11:53 am

Thank you for taking questions. I'm a Biglaw associate who's hoping to move in-house in the next few years.

What's the best way to identify and apply for good in-house positions? Obviously if you have a contact at a company that you know is hiring you should apply through that contact, but what about the rest of the time? Headhunter? Job search boards, company websites, and cold mailing? I recently read an article advising associates interested in moving in-house to tell partners about their long-term plans, on the theory that those partners can pass along suitable openings, but to me this just sounds like a good way to set yourself up for a stealth layoff. Would you agree?

Regarding the best time to move, let's say you're a fourth-year associate planning to stay at your firm a few more years, to build up more experience and enable yourself to go in-house at a more senior level, but then you hear about an opening for a staff attorney at a great company you'd love to work for. Should you cut short your time at the firm and jump on the opportunity, or is it a wiser long-term move to stay put and continue building your skillset as originally planned? Obviously very fact-dependent and subjective, but I'd appreciate hearing your thoughts on the trade-off.

Once you have an interview lined up, how do you distinguish yourself from other applicants? Any tips on succeeding after you've made the move? Are there meaningful opportunities for advancement in a large company (e.g., Fortune 500), or are you pretty much locked into the position and pay you entered with?

Thanks again. Anonymous because I've recently discussed these topics with colleagues/friends.

Kochel
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Re: In-House Corporate Lawyer Taking Questions

Postby Kochel » Mon May 17, 2010 11:55 am

Kobe_Teeth wrote:What are the most notable differences between BigLaw and working in-house?

Which do you prefer?

If you were to switch jobs, would you go back to a firm or look for another in-house gig?


I'll try to boil down the essential differences to three:

1. One client: As an in-house lawyer you have only one client. You may work with lots of different colleagues all over the company, but at the end of the day you're looking out for only the company's best interests. As a corollary, you have only one boss, as opposed to being subject to the whims of multiple partners. See #2 below.

2. Corporate culture: You're an employee now. You may even still be a cog in the machine to start with. But you have to deal with budgets, staff meetings, conference calls, personnel issues, office politics, corporate hierarchy, etc. You will report directly to somebody who is your boss (and who needs to be treated like one). Your colleagues in the legal department will not stratify themselves according to law school graduation year or obsess about lockstep pay.

This is very different from the Biglaw model of free-floating associates working for many partners simultaneously in a building where all the basic business stuff is taken care of by faceless non-lawyers overseen by the firm's Politburo. You might not even have your own secretary (gasp!).

3. No more billable hours. Res ipsa loquitur.

Kochel
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Re: In-House Corporate Lawyer Taking Questions

Postby Kochel » Mon May 17, 2010 12:03 pm

Kobe_Teeth wrote:How did you get this job? How much experience do you typically need?


Most Biglaw-to-in-house moves occur after 3-6 years of Biglaw work. Generally, that's enough time for one to acquire basic corporate legal skills and subject-matter expertise. It gets a little harder after say 6 years, because in-house employers will either (i) assume you couldn't make partner and therefore are going in-house out of desperation or (ii) think that you're overqualified for entry-level in-house work and/or will demand too high a salary. There will be exceptions on either side of that 3-6 year band, of course, but you generally don't see companies hire lawyers just out of law school (except for low-level litigation/arbitration or paralegal stuff) or Biglaw partners (other than as GC).

I got my in-house job the old-fashioned way: 1. Decided I didn't like Biglaw anymore (4 years); 2. called headhunter; 3. interviewed with current employer within a couple of weeks. In normal economic times, headhunters swarm around Biglaw associates. Another typical fact-pattern has the associate develop a close working relationship with a client and subsequently get hired by the client.

Kochel
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Re: In-House Corporate Lawyer Taking Questions

Postby Kochel » Mon May 17, 2010 12:12 pm

CG614 wrote:For the business minded, is it possible to also be involved in business decisions, or is that kept completely separate. Would you need an MBA to get more involved in the operations of the company?


At most companies, lawyers are very much involved in business operations. New products or markets or strategic initiatives (acquisitions, joint ventures, etc.) will almost always require legal input and paticipation. In highly regulated industries, lawyers will frequently even veto business decisions. That said, most of an in-house lawyer's involvement will be about how to implement business decisions that have already been made by non-lawyer executives.

But in-house work offers lots of opportunities to interface with decision-makers and to prove one's business instincts and collegiality. Junior lawyers at my company routinely are on calls/meetings with senior executives. Transitioning from a legal role to a business role happens at a lot of companies, and generally wouldn't require an MBA. But of course you'd only be able to make that transition if you'd been able to assertively demonstrate that you're capable of more than just yes/no legal advice.

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of Benito Cereno
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Re: In-House Corporate Lawyer Taking Questions

Postby of Benito Cereno » Mon May 17, 2010 12:18 pm

..,
Last edited by of Benito Cereno on Tue May 18, 2010 1:24 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Kochel
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Re: In-House Corporate Lawyer Taking Questions

Postby Kochel » Mon May 17, 2010 12:19 pm

kyleh02 wrote:Do you know of the market for working in-house at a Private Equity firm? If so, is a substantial amount of Big Law experience a necessity?


I've done private equity work, and I've seen plenty of former Biglaw colleagues go in-house at private equity firms or hedge funds. While I'm not familiar with the current job market in that sector (other than it took a beating over the last 3 years as credit dried up), my sense is that the fund firms want demonstrated transactional expertise. Which generally means a few years at Biglaw. Often fund firms will hire Biglaw associates that have represented them on deals. It's a cutthroat industry and employers will want people who know what they're doing.

(You can probably tell that I'm not fond of the private equity ethos.)

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Re: In-House Corporate Lawyer Taking Questions

Postby Kochel » Mon May 17, 2010 12:33 pm

of Benito Cereno wrote:given everything you've said so far, I can't really see the appeal of moving to in-house. Can you explain why you and others have chosen this path?


I'll concede that in-house work doesn't seem glamorous, especially to law students who still dreamily envision a fulfilling career of bravura trial advocacy or M&A moving-and-shaking. I'll also acknowledge that in-house practice differs substantially from the professional model of the bow-tied, gray-haired detached counselor who cites case law even while discussing the weather.

But consider the following, and then hopefully some advantages will be revealed:

1. Hours. I probably haven't done the equivalent of more than 1500 hours in any year since I moved in-house. I rarely stay at work past 6:30 or work at home. I never work weekends. I take 4 weeks of vacation yearly.

2. Pay. Not as much as I'd be making had I stayed at Biglaw and made partner. But: (i) virtually nobody gets the chance to stay in Biglaw permanently, and (ii) in-house pay is still equal to or better than the majority of other private practice positions. Especially when one considers the hours tradeoff.

3. Stress. Biglaw work, and private practice generally, is highly stressful. Billable requirements, multiple competing demaning partners, constant firedrills and deadlines, rainmaking. In-house work can be stressful, but usually not as bad as private practice, and there are many in-house jobs that aren't very stressful at all.

4. Quality of Practice. I still practice law every day. I advise senior business executives as to risks, requirements, opportunities associated with business decisions. I do regulatory compliance. I do transactions, negotiate contracts, go to Board meetings. And whenever there's grunt work or weekend work involved, I make the Biglaw lawyers do it. I am, after all, the client.

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webbylu87
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Re: In-House Corporate Lawyer Taking Questions

Postby webbylu87 » Mon May 17, 2010 12:42 pm

As someone who is interested in in-house corporate work but will not be attending HLS (but a T25), what sort of stratification do you see in terms of your colleagues having T14 degrees? Is there a glass ceiling for those coming from more regional schools? Or is this typically untrue considering this is a career move you pursue later in your career once you've had the chance to prove yourself? Is a BigLaw background necessary for becoming an in-house lawyer?

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DoubleChecks
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Re: In-House Corporate Lawyer Taking Questions

Postby DoubleChecks » Mon May 17, 2010 12:59 pm

thanks for your advice

about how many yrs have you been working at your in-house position?

to best prepare for the transition from biglaw to corporate in-house, what type of work should one focus on/gain experience in?

and i recall you having said (possibly in another thread) that your bonus isnt it cash comp but ESOs or something of the like...usually what is the approximate monetary value of that?

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Re: In-House Corporate Lawyer Taking Questions

Postby Kochel » Mon May 17, 2010 1:09 pm

NayBoer wrote:How big is your legal department in terms of attorneys and staff? What sort of work do you typically do, aside from interfacing with outside firms?


In-house legal departments run the gamut from 1 lawyer to hundreds, depending on the size of the company and the complexity of its business. Service sector companies tend to need more lawyers per employee, as do companies in highly regulated industries or in industries that generate lots of litigation.

I'm lucky to be one of a dozen lawyers in my shop--enough to ensure that I don't have to try to do it all myself, but not so many that the place becomes overly hierarchical. In contrast to law firms, in-house legal departments tend to have a more rigid pyramidal structure. In the long run, that can limit promotions and lead to a plateau in seniority. But in-house lawyers are also pretty portable (to other in-house jobs) in normal economic times and so you'll see turnover as people seek greener pastures. And, unlike in law firms, the in-house world doesn't follow the up-or-out model of advancement.

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missvik218
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Re: In-House Corporate Lawyer Taking Questions

Postby missvik218 » Mon May 17, 2010 1:11 pm

Kochel wrote:But consider the following, and then hopefully some advantages will be revealed:

1. Hours. I probably haven't done the equivalent of more than 1500 hours in any year since I moved in-house. I rarely stay at work past 6:30 or work at home. I never work weekends. I take 4 weeks of vacation yearly.

2. Pay. Not as much as I'd be making had I stayed at Biglaw and made partner. But: (i) virtually nobody gets the chance to stay in Biglaw permanently, and (ii) in-house pay is still equal to or better than the majority of other private practice positions. Especially when one considers the hours tradeoff.

3. Stress. Biglaw work, and private practice generally, is highly stressful. Billable requirements, multiple competing demaning partners, constant firedrills and deadlines, rainmaking. In-house work can be stressful, but usually not as bad as private practice, and there are many in-house jobs that aren't very stressful at all.

4. Quality of Practice. I still practice law every day. I advise senior business executives as to risks, requirements, opportunities associated with business decisions. I do regulatory compliance. I do transactions, negotiate contracts, go to Board meetings. And whenever there's grunt work or weekend work involved, I make the Biglaw lawyers do it. I am, after all, the client.

I want this!!!

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions.

Kochel
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Re: In-House Corporate Lawyer Taking Questions

Postby Kochel » Mon May 17, 2010 1:17 pm

SBimmer wrote:Can one get an in-house job right out of law school?


I'm sure there are some areas where companies hire new graduates. I suspect they're areas that have high volumes of commoditized work (arbitrations, no-fault insurance) that doesn't require lots of experience or a broad skill set to perform. There may be other areas where new lawyers are hired to do work that otherwise could be done by paralegals (governance, regulatory filings).

It's not the typical model, though. Most legal departments are staffed with lawyers with previous experience, both basic corporate stuff and legal work for the particular industry. At my firm, some paralegals get JDs, but we've never hired any of them for an attorney position.

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Re: In-House Corporate Lawyer Taking Questions

Postby trialjunky » Mon May 17, 2010 1:18 pm

Tag, I just want to listen in




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