Should I go in-house or stay at my firm?

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Should I go in-house or stay at my firm?

Postby Anonymous User » Sat Jun 10, 2017 7:16 pm

Hi everyone. Thanks in advance for reading this post and responding. I know this question comes up a lot on this forum. I'm currently a 4th/5th year associate at a large regional firm. In my office, I'm the only associate practicing in my particular area of law. There are two partners that never give me work (one partner is basically retired and has a foot out the door, while the other partner barely has enough work to keep himself busy). I have been told numerous times that the partners in my office are notorious for not sharing work and keep all of it for themselves and that it has nothing to do with my work performance. My reviews from partners I actually do work for have all been positive. All of my billable hours come from partners located in a different office out of state. I love working with them and they've been great mentors that genuinely care about my professional development. However, I feel lonely in my office working on matters for partners in other states and not getting an opportunity to work on matters and build client relationships with people in my own community. Not only is it isolating, but I fear that it's a detriment to me making partner in a few years if I have no book of business in the city I actually live in.

I recently received an offer to go in-house at a large publicly traded company. It's a $10K pay cut, which I realize isn't terrible, but it's not ideal either, especially when staying at my firm is much more lucrative (as it's a lock-step salary system). I would also get 3 weeks of paid vacation on top of holidays and a 401K match, which I don't get at my firm. The hours also sound better, as one of the counsels told me that they work from 8:00-5:30/6:00 and rarely works evenings or weekends. The concern is that the company is in a specialized industry and I worry that I'll be pigeonholed into this industry in the future. Additionally, it seems like there may not be much room for upward mobility in the company, as I report to the person who reports to the GC.

My questions are:
1. Given my experience at this law firm thus far, should I stay for the money and the people that I actually like working with (i.e. people not in the office in my city?)
2. Is work-life balance and no business development worth the pay-cut and future earnings?
3. If I go in-house, should I be concerned that the industry I'm going into is so specialized?
4. If I hate in-house work, how hard is it to go back to a firm?



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Re: Should I go in-house or stay at my firm?

Postby Revlon80 » Tue Jun 13, 2017 10:07 am

First, how open are you to relocating & how tied are you to continuing to practice in the practice area you're in? If you're pretty open to moving & want to stay in the practice area, then can you not ask to relocate in the firm? Also, I've found being in-house at a large company that relocating is pretty common. That is especially true in "niche" industries or companies where there are higher possibilities of either economic downturns in the industry or consolidations, i.e. mergers. I'm in energy, which has seen a lot of this in the last few years.

Second, only you can answer the question re compensation. In my position, I'm paid regionally higher than many in-house colleagues at smaller companies here, but I would be lying if I didn't want to make more money. But I'm pretty sure that I'd be saying that if I were making more at a firm, too. I do value the schedule & the control over time. It just fits my personality better than the near-constant high anxiety of firm life. I will also add that I've noticed in my company that all the lawyers generally continue to keep the longest hours, & are almost always the last people in the office.

Third, what would be your long-term plans for in-house practice? Do you want to stay specialized & an expert in your field, or would you have ambitions for a GC role? This impacts both the question re comp & industry specialization. If you just want to stay an area expert in your field, then I wouldn't be very concerned about being overly-specialized (provided you're ok with moving anywhere to do it). But if you aim for a different role, then broader experience is something you should seek at some point. Also, generally staying in an industry does help you as you move up, but I've never seen not having industry-specific experience as a complete roadblock to an otherwise qualified candidate.

Finally, re going back to a firm - it's not impossible, but it is very difficult. I would recommend maintaining ties at your old firm & it doesn't hurt to establish new ties at outside firms you work with in-house. I've considered going back to a firm a couple times & I've found there is quite a bit of hesitation even though I've only been in-house less than 5 years, practiced in a very good firm, etc. Some of the firm concerns are valid, but I think that it is also very unfortunate because I think law firms are closing themselves off from very talented people who understand very well how to practice law in a cost-conscious environment. But it is what it is. I think as fewer go to law school & as more & more people abandon law firms, that hesitation will continue to weaken, but currently it is difficult to jump back.

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