Is In-House Enjoyable? Taking the jump.

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Is In-House Enjoyable? Taking the jump.

Post by Anonymous User » Wed Jun 24, 2020 4:53 pm

I'm a senior associate considering a move in-house right now.

I like my practice area and enjoy working at my firm (in the Latham/Kirkland/STB/GDC band). I've been told that I have a good shot at making non-equity partner. Lately, I've found the hours pretty brutal. My practice area didn't really slow down with COVID, and while I enjoy my work I also haven't enjoyed getting to do any of my hobbies in... well, a long time.

I'm considering jumping in-house to a non-profit. Obviously, the pay cut is massive (think 50%+), so I'm trying to proceed cautiously. I'm told that I'll have a good deal of responsibility beyond the practice area that I'm in at my firm. I'll get to dabble in what would be 3-4 different practice areas at a firm. I'm a big fan of this personally, and combined with the 45 hour work weeks the position looks very attractive. My worry, however, is that in-house just won't be an intellectually engaging and interesting environment.

Could some of you that have moved in-house at non-profits or otherwise walk me through what your typical day looks like and how much of the law you get to practice vs how much is you managing outside counsel? Also, what does managing outside counsel look like? My current group rarely has any meaningful interaction with in-house lawyers beyond a client's GC/Deputy GC (it's a weird group), so I'm not even very certain of what the firm side of that coin looks like, let alone the client side. Are there any other points that you think I should be apprised of re: in-house?

JHP

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Re: Is In-House Enjoyable? Taking the jump.

Post by JHP » Thu Jun 25, 2020 10:32 am

*Disclaimer: I haven't worked as counsel in-house, but worked closely with the GC and other attorneys in a small legal department for a very high profile public company for several years, so my impressions are all based on my observations. Sorry I can't offer anything more substantive.

I think you're right that it won't be as intellectually engaging or interesting on a legal level, but I suppose this is largely the crux of the tradeoff--you'll have significantly fewer nights pulling your hair out at 1 am on a last minute deal or drafting project. A lot of the job will likely be managing other people, perhaps more than you think--corralling the business and project management folks, trying to ensure people know what they need to comply with and working on the internal processes to get those messages across, trying to do a bunch of random things you used to be able to push onto a secretary or junior associate (see resource discussion below), etc.

As for practicing the law, I don't know how the non-profit would be structured, but if you're in a "wearing all the hats" role versus specific employment, litigation, or corporate hats, you'll probably do a fair bit of juggling between what you know already while also reaching out to and managing outside counsel for the questions you can't answer. My company really only tried to go to outside counsel for significant corporate or IP matters, and those were usually for a particular matter rather than general corporate assistance, so managing them was easier as it was constrained to particular deals/matters.

One thing you may be surprised about is the lack of support for the legal team, but you should ask about what support and resources look like at your org. Again, anecdotal, but I have heard from a lot of in-house folks (plus what I experienced as part of the in-house team) that you really are on your own a lot which can be scary in a lot of ways. Firms are obviously structured and centered around the legal practice, but companies are not, so the main resources (and maybe even secondary resources) will not be wholeheartedly funneled to the legal department. We faced a lot of scrutiny on all our billing, difficulty in getting people to keep us in the loop on things or understand our deadlines (lawyers are the naysayers, in everyone's eyes), and our attorneys were often faced with legal and non-legal questions they weren't equipped to answer despite being stars from the top NYC firms. So you have to be resourceful and willing to do a lot of digging yourself because it will be harder to just pay to get outside counsel to help with an answer and you can't just ask the partner who has been practicing in the industry for 20+ years anymore.

In the end, though, if you like the company and the people enough, I think it is very rewarding. I like my clients, but I've never cared more about a business or a client than when I was able to dedicate my 100% to a company and its mission.

I'm sure I just said everything you already know, but I hope this was helpful.

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Re: Is In-House Enjoyable? Taking the jump.

Post by Anonymous User » Thu Jun 25, 2020 11:39 am

Anonymous User wrote:
Wed Jun 24, 2020 4:53 pm
My worry, however, is that in-house just won't be an intellectually engaging and interesting environment.

(Anon because I dont want to dox myself). I worked in-house (for a growing tech company) after doing biglaw, and found it to be more intellectually engaging/interesting precisely because I had to understand the strategy at a much deeper level. Essentially had to analyze business plans, investor concerns, competitors, etc. and really understand how my decisions played into the overall company outlook. As opposed to biglaw where it was mostly following client instructions, even if the details of a specific task may have gotten complicated. Being in-house and getting advice from outside counsel, you can really see how shallow an understanding outside counsel has of bigger picture context (there is just so much that they cant know). Again, this was for a growing and aggressive tech co., so it may have just been an exciting time for the company... a non-profit with established procedures or something may be more boring, but just offering my two cents.
Last edited by Anonymous User on Thu Jun 25, 2020 11:40 am, edited 1 time in total.

Anonymous User
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Re: Is In-House Enjoyable? Taking the jump.

Post by Anonymous User » Thu Jun 25, 2020 11:39 am

deleted double post

Anonymous User
Posts: 357873
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Re: Is In-House Enjoyable? Taking the jump.

Post by Anonymous User » Thu Jun 25, 2020 12:43 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Thu Jun 25, 2020 11:39 am
Anonymous User wrote:
Wed Jun 24, 2020 4:53 pm
My worry, however, is that in-house just won't be an intellectually engaging and interesting environment.

(Anon because I dont want to dox myself). I worked in-house (for a growing tech company) after doing biglaw, and found it to be more intellectually engaging/interesting precisely because I had to understand the strategy at a much deeper level. Essentially had to analyze business plans, investor concerns, competitors, etc. and really understand how my decisions played into the overall company outlook. As opposed to biglaw where it was mostly following client instructions, even if the details of a specific task may have gotten complicated. Being in-house and getting advice from outside counsel, you can really see how shallow an understanding outside counsel has of bigger picture context (there is just so much that they cant know). Again, this was for a growing and aggressive tech co., so it may have just been an exciting time for the company... a non-profit with established procedures or something may be more boring, but just offering my two cents.
I came from that same band of biglaw and have been a product development lawyer in-house for 3 years and want to echo this exact point. I really appreciate getting involved in the business strategy, which I never got to do at the firm. It may depend a lot on whether you like legal work for its own sake or appreciate how it fits into the wider scheme of things.

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Anonymous User
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Re: Is In-House Enjoyable? Taking the jump.

Post by Anonymous User » Thu Jun 25, 2020 1:08 pm

In house lawyer here. I came from biglaw tax, and I think the generalist nature of in house practice suits my personality better than private practice, where you are expected to know arcane stuff that most people might see only a couple times during their entire career.

jagpaw

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Re: Is In-House Enjoyable? Taking the jump.

Post by jagpaw » Thu Jun 25, 2020 7:55 pm

Hello - I’m in tax myself and am considering the in-house jump. Would be great to ask you a few questions via PM. Thanks.

Anonymous User
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Re: Is In-House Enjoyable? Taking the jump.

Post by Anonymous User » Fri Jun 26, 2020 3:54 pm

Anonymous here to be safe. I was in biglaw for about 4 years in NYC at a v20 M&A practice. I went in house to a tech company and I now cover about 3 - 4 areas, including M&A. Although I thought being a generalist would be fun and I enjoy learning about other areas of the law, I personally have realized that I would prefer to be a specialist. Learning about new areas of the law has broadened my horizons, but I find it stressful to have to do legal analysis or give legal advice in new areas because they are so new to me and I'm always afraid of missing an issue. I've been getting more comfortable and I have access to outside counsel but sometimes I feel like I'm just a conduit of advice from outside counsel to the business team rather than learning it myself, especially during coronavirus, because every area of the law is complicated and new to me. I will also say that sometimes it feels like as a lawyer you have to be the adult in the room among non-lawyers. Your colleagues will likely be very smart but not as detail oriented or as good at issue spotting as you, even with non-legal obstacles to a project. And trying to get them to take a look at a contract is also tough because non-lawyers seem to think that contracts and legal documents are magic that they can't understand so often they don't even try. I've personally found working in-house to be a net positive, mainly because of the lifestyle, but I just wanted to mention these issues because I didn't think about them myself.

ultroz

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Re: Is In-House Enjoyable? Taking the jump.

Post by ultroz » Wed Jul 01, 2020 3:39 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Thu Jun 25, 2020 1:08 pm
In house lawyer here. I came from biglaw tax, and I think the generalist nature of in house practice suits my personality better than private practice, where you are expected to know arcane stuff that most people might see only a couple times during their entire career.
How did you make the jump from big law tax to general in house (assuming it's not in house tax or something)?

Anonymous User
Posts: 357873
Joined: Tue Aug 11, 2009 9:32 am

Re: Is In-House Enjoyable? Taking the jump.

Post by Anonymous User » Thu Jul 02, 2020 2:51 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Fri Jun 26, 2020 3:54 pm
Anonymous here to be safe. I was in biglaw for about 4 years in NYC at a v20 M&A practice. I went in house to a tech company and I now cover about 3 - 4 areas, including M&A. Although I thought being a generalist would be fun and I enjoy learning about other areas of the law, I personally have realized that I would prefer to be a specialist. Learning about new areas of the law has broadened my horizons, but I find it stressful to have to do legal analysis or give legal advice in new areas because they are so new to me and I'm always afraid of missing an issue. I've been getting more comfortable and I have access to outside counsel but sometimes I feel like I'm just a conduit of advice from outside counsel to the business team rather than learning it myself, especially during coronavirus, because every area of the law is complicated and new to me. I will also say that sometimes it feels like as a lawyer you have to be the adult in the room among non-lawyers. Your colleagues will likely be very smart but not as detail oriented or as good at issue spotting as you, even with non-legal obstacles to a project. And trying to get them to take a look at a contract is also tough because non-lawyers seem to think that contracts and legal documents are magic that they can't understand so often they don't even try. I've personally found working in-house to be a net positive, mainly because of the lifestyle, but I just wanted to mention these issues because I didn't think about them myself.
For a different data point, I’m in-house at a very small company and I absolutely love the wide range of topics that I get to cover. I like the idea that I get to cut out the low-probability “issues spotted” and focus on the issues that are more likely to have an impact on the business. In my first year of practice, I already knew that I would enjoy being more involved in the “business” side, and 7 years later it turns out I was right. Still have a hard time not thinking about things in a “billable hour” mindset, but it’s very nice to leave the office without worrying about my billable productivity for the day

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