Seeking input from in-house lawyers at IBM (or other big companies)

(On Campus Interviews, Summer Associate positions, Firm Reviews, Tips, ...)
Forum rules
Anonymous Posting

Anonymous posting is only appropriate when you are revealing sensitive employment related information about a firm, job, etc. You may anonymously respond on topic to these threads. Unacceptable uses include: harassing another user, joking around, testing the feature, or other things that are more appropriate in the lounge.

Failure to follow these rules will get you outed, warned, or banned.
Anonymous User
Posts: 331275
Joined: Tue Aug 11, 2009 9:32 am

Seeking input from in-house lawyers at IBM (or other big companies)

Postby Anonymous User » Sun Dec 09, 2018 4:18 pm

I’m exploring job opportunities at IBM Legal and am curious to hear from others who work or have worked at IBM Legal. Specifically, how is work/life balance (avg hours/wk), are you still marketable to other companies or do you get “stuck” at IBM, and do you (and do other IBM legal generally like it)? How often do lawyers get laid off?

I imagine anyone who works or has worked at a really large company like IBM where you’re much more specialized can comment on whether you’re still marketable to smaller companies down the road. To clarify, I’ve got experience already (would likely be a junior partner if I stayed on law firm path) that is a broad base.

I’ve always worked for smaller in house teams (less than 20 lawyers), so I’m not sure whether I’ll remain marketable and like being part of a legal group that is this large, where I’ll be a bit of a faceless name, at least for the first several years. Long term, I may want to be a GC of a smaller company rather than stay at IBM for life. I just don’t know. My overall impression is very positive so far but I’d love an insider’s view.

Any insight/guidance is much appreciated.

jhett

Bronze
Posts: 264
Joined: Thu Mar 16, 2006 4:36 pm

Re: Seeking input from in-house lawyers at IBM (or other big companies)

Postby jhett » Mon Dec 10, 2018 10:10 am

I work in a small legal department of a big company, and here are my thoughts.

Yes, you will be pigeonholed into your specific group at IBM, and upward movement is hard. You have to wait for the people above you to move up, move on, or retire to get a shot at promotion and greater job responsibilities. You'll need to have experience in a wide range of legal matters to move into a GC-type position, so you'll likely put in a lot of time on the IBM corporate ladder before you can make that step.

To shortcut that time, try to get the most senior position you can. If you have 3+ more years experience than other people with your same job title, then you just started lower on the ladder than you could have entered. Also, ask them questions about opportunities for career advancement and ways to get involved in legal matters outside of your specific practice. You want as much flexibility and freedom as possible - the more different things you can put on your resume, the more attractive you'll be to other companies. Lastly, the IBM name is an advantage. The legal department has a good reputation so it will give you a leg up as long as you show you took initiative within the company and contributed in different ways.

Anonymous User
Posts: 331275
Joined: Tue Aug 11, 2009 9:32 am

Re: Seeking input from in-house lawyers at IBM (or other big companies)

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Dec 11, 2018 1:18 pm

OP here. Thanks for response above. This is helpful. If you were weighing a #2 to GC role with broad responsibilities at an $2-3B market cap public company against more narrow role at larger company like IBM, how would you think about the pros and cons, both long term and short term?

albanach

Gold
Posts: 1839
Joined: Tue Jul 08, 2008 10:05 pm

Re: Seeking input from in-house lawyers at IBM (or other big companies)

Postby albanach » Tue Dec 11, 2018 3:25 pm

Anonymous User wrote:OP here. Thanks for response above. This is helpful. If you were weighing a #2 to GC role with broad responsibilities at an $2-3B market cap public company against more narrow role at larger company like IBM, how would you think about the pros and cons, both long term and short term?


Different poster, but I'm also in-house at a large organization with a 25-30 lawyer staff. Obviously we have fewer attorneys than IBM, so I can't comment much there.

The #2 position sounds like a better springboard to a GC role elsewhere. As the other poster said, a GC is going to have to bring a breadth of experience to the table and that's hard if you're silo'd into a narrow practice group. It might come with more risk - the company could disappear. But equally, really big companies are prone to directives like "we're cutting 5% of global staff" and the GC has to pick one in twenty lawyers to let go.

Does the smaller firm have interesting prospects? Would it be liable to acquisition? Can you protect yourself against that, maybe with deferred comp or similar?

jhett

Bronze
Posts: 264
Joined: Thu Mar 16, 2006 4:36 pm

Re: Seeking input from in-house lawyers at IBM (or other big companies)

Postby jhett » Tue Dec 11, 2018 5:52 pm

I agree with above poster. #2 to GC is the more attractive job given your stated goals, but you have to look carefully at the stability of the company and the legal department. Is the company on the upward trajectory? Have there been recent layoffs? Is the company vulnerable to acquisition or has been the target of an attempted acquisition recently? Is there a lot of turnover in the legal department? Is it in your preferred industry? Do you mesh well with the GC?

Anonymous User
Posts: 331275
Joined: Tue Aug 11, 2009 9:32 am

Re: Seeking input from in-house lawyers at IBM (or other big companies)

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Jan 08, 2019 10:31 pm

Maybe late to the party, but perhaps OP will see this. I worked in IBM Legal for over a decade, and am now GC at a small tech startup.

One point the other posters miss about IBM Legal is rotation among practice areas. The old adage is that "IBM" stands for "I've Been Moved". IBM shuffles the deck less often these days, but it's still possible to rotate from a sales role to a litigation role to a product development role. I've even see patent lawyers jump to a "general legal" role, and vice versa. You don't have to be pigeonholed forever.

IBM Legal has patent lawyers, sales (S&D) lawyers, lawyers in various specialties (e.g., HR/Labor, environmental, compliance, government contracting) and product lawyers. The product lawyers are generally assigned to a set of products or brand and have roles closest to a GC in a small tech company. Well, except for governance/securities type work, which was handled in Armonk. I've heard from former colleagues that IBM Legal staff increasingly receive project assignments dynamically based on business need, rather than based on an assigned roles. So, with a bit of gumption and initiative you can get experience in a broad array of areas.

In making the jump to a GC position in a smaller company - IBM can position you very well for "operational" type legal tasks. Negotiating contracts, dealing with disputes, product issues, intellectual property questions, etc. Probably much deeper and nuanced experience than any #2 role at a small company. When working through a issue, you'll have access to a wealth of very experienced lawyers with whom to consult and absorb knowledge.

But IBM Legal will not prepare you well for the governance/securities aspect of being a GC, unless you happen to rotate through one of the few jobs in Armonk with those responsibilities. If you have solid governance and securities experience from a prior job (e.g., BigLaw corporate associate), this may not be a hurdle to you when interviewing for GC roles down the road. But it's a consideration, especially if many years pass before your GC opportunity. Many of my former IBM Legal colleagues wrestle with this "hole" in their resume, especially the ones with no early experiences as a private firm corporate associate.

Like many in-house roles at large companies, you can do well financially. Not Big Law type bucks, but you should live comfortably. For me, work-life balance was generally good. I had flexibility to work from home on occasion, good health benefits, good 401k. I had time to be a parent.

Jumping to a GC role will be tough regardless of the path you choose. Competition is fierce for GC positions, and you likely will be up against experienced GCs when trying to land your first GC role.



Return to “Legal Employment?

Who is online

The online users are hidden on this forum.