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john grisham

We are In-House Lawyers - Ask Us Anything

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Inspired by another thread, I thought I'd start this thread for people to ask any questions they may have about being an in-house lawyer.  There's at least a few of us in-house (one with quite a bit of experience) so ask away.  

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How are the opportunities for someone straight out of law school, compared to the traditional 3-5years biglaw route to in-house practice?

 

How are the salaries, hours, and work conditions generally like?

 

What area of law do in-house lawyers generally practice in? I realize it can be diverse and depend on the company you work for, but which area of law generally have the best opportunities for in-house?

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1. How many hours do you work?

2. How big is the company you work for?

3. Whats the salary range, benefits, stock options?

4. What are the pros and cons in comparison with biglaw?

5. Im guessing theres no up and out like big law, so whats the career advancement track?

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I've gone in-house recently too. I put in my five years and many hours on Bay St and it landed me my dream job. I would say I work somewhat fewer hours, but I still have evening and weekend work. The work is definitely more predictable, though, than litigation at a big firm.

 

My compensation package at target is pretty similar to what I was making when I left the firm. It's much more variable than it was on Bay St, though. Sadly I've left behind the nice lock-step raises every year. Those were nice, although I didn't have many years left in that system before I'd have to start justifying my raises :)

 

I can get into the pros and cons more in response to more specific question. The main pro is that I get to do a lot more on-my-feet litigation than I ever did at the firm. I deal with one client, which I know well, but our business is very broad and far-reaching, so I still get a lot of variety. I don't have a partner looking over my shoulder and second-guessing me or changing my drafts to match his/her personal preferences. I prepare as much as I think is appropriate for my cases without needing to overprepare the file to impress the client (one of my pet peeves at the firm!). I have someone I report to, but she trusts me 100% and lets me do my thing.

 

All this said, my job is somewhat unique among in-house jobs. Jobs where you do more litigation than in a Bay St litigation department are pretty rare :) 

 

Also, no docketing!

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I've gone in-house recently too. I put in my five years and many hours on Bay St and it landed me my dream job. I would say I work somewhat fewer hours, but I still have evening and weekend work. The work is definitely more predictable, though, than litigation at a big firm.

 

My compensation package at target is pretty similar to what I was making when I left the firm. It's much more variable than it was on Bay St, though. Sadly I've left behind the nice lock-step raises every year. Those were nice, although I didn't have many years left in that system before I'd have to start justifying my raises :)

 

I can get into the pros and cons more in response to more specific question. The main pro is that I get to do a lot more on-my-feet litigation than I ever did at the firm. I deal with one client, which I know well, but our business is very broad and far-reaching, so I still get a lot of variety. I don't have a partner looking over my shoulder and second-guessing me or changing my drafts to match his/her personal preferences. I prepare as much as I think is appropriate for my cases without needing to overprepare the file to impress the client (one of my pet peeves at the firm!). I have someone I report to, but she trusts me 100% and lets me do my thing.

 

All this said, my job is somewhat unique among in-house jobs. Jobs where you do more litigation than in a Bay St litigation department are pretty rare :)

 

Also, no docketing!

 

Sounds pretty awesome. What's the story on how you got this position? Did you seek it out yourself, is this a previous client?

 

Do you know of anyone who made the transition to in-house from a firm that wasn't a national brand?

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How are the opportunities for someone straight out of law school, compared to the traditional 3-5years biglaw route to in-house practice?

 

How are the salaries, hours, and work conditions generally like?

 

What area of law do in-house lawyers generally practice in? I realize it can be diverse and depend on the company you work for, but which area of law generally have the best opportunities for in-house?

I practiced in big law for a couple of years.  I've heard of people heading in-house straight out of law school (I think our own Goldencuffs is one), but it's uncommon.  I think even my story (2 years practicing) is atypical.

 

My salary is a little less, but I enjoy it so much more - so it's a fair trade.  I don't think in-house is for everyone, but it fits me like a glove so I'm happy to take the pay cut (which isn't really that big of a cut).  

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1. How many hours do you work?

2. How big is the company you work for?

3. Whats the salary range, benefits, stock options?

4. What are the pros and cons in comparison with biglaw?

5. Im guessing theres no up and out like big law, so whats the career advancement track?

1. Hours vary for me quite a bit (overall a little less than my big law gig - and somewhat more predictable), and with more travel (given that I didn't travel at as an association in big law).

2. Large company.  Market cap in the billions.

3. Would rather not say.

4. My list of pros in favour of in-house would be much longer than my cons, but I really caution people from taking that as a general rule.  I know some lawyers who would absolutely loathe being in-house (because of the pace overall and speed at which you need to make decisions).  I really love it, but it's not for everybody.  The only con for me is sometimes I miss the thrill of those massive transactions where you have a whole bunch of lawyers on the file on each side and it's long days and nights, etc. (I'm a deal whore).  But that's probably nostalgia more than anything else (because those deals start to take their toll).

5. Career advancement would vary quite a bit based on where you're at.  If you're hired as anything other than a general counsel, then that's your likely target.  It takes a while to get there (and depending on where you're at, there's usually a number of titles along the way).  

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Will you describe a typical day at your gig?

The absolute favourite part of my job is that there is literally no such thing as a typical day.  The variety of things that come up seems to be endless.   The one constant is that I spend a whole bunch of time on the phone most days - but what comes up on the other end varies a ton.  

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A day in the life:

 

Sometime around dinnertime, EST, the day before the applicable workday - Receive e-mail from Asia about something urgent (but not really), that needs to be dealt with "before the close of business, Shanghai time".

 

Approx. 15 minutes later - Receive phone call from sender of aforementioned e-mail inquiring as to whether I received the e-mail in question.

 

Throughout the night - Have The Boss get irritated about my Blackberry buzzing all night long.

 

6:30am - Wake up.  Review overnight e-mails.

 

8:30am - At desk after running the gauntlet of people parked at my door with all their "urgent issues".

 

9:00am to 10:00am - Catch up on various staff meetings and whatnot.  Multitask dealing with various "emergencies", filtering the real ones from the "I don't really want to do this/take responsibility for this so I'll just ask legal" ones, and chucking the latter back to the person who should be dealing with it

 

10:00am to 11:00am - Various management meetings and phone calls for big picture stuff

 

11:01am to 4:49pm - Actual legal and business stuff of pretty much every flavour you might imagine.  Billion dollar transaction need rescuing?  Been there.  Finance panicking about a true sale issue? Done it.  Sales guy detained by US Immigration?  I'm your guy.  Asset destroyed by Libyan militia?  Yup. Explosion which damaged a facility? No problem.  Union issues? Meh, give me a hard one.  Construction lien?  Now you're not even bothering to challenge me.  Customer insolvency...supplier issues....dealing with government.....WTO issues....financing.....export control....

 

5:00pm - The business units go home.

 

6:00pm - Usual departure from office on a normal day.

 

6:01pm - Phone call to tell me that I need to be on a flight to Wherever in 11 hours and 59 minutes.  Somewhat tolerable if LawBuzz One is involved since it has real good cookies on board and the crew lets me sit in the jump seat.

 

6:02pm - Advise The Boss of the aforementioned and re-arrange my life to account for it.

 

Enroute to home - Various phone calls.

 

And so the cycle begins again.

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1. How many hours do you work?

2. How big is the company you work for?

3. Whats the salary range, benefits, stock options?

4. What are the pros and cons in comparison with biglaw?

5. Im guessing theres no up and out like big law, so whats the career advancement track?

1. Typical week is probably in the 60 hour range across 7 days. An intense week or working a deal can result in 80.

2. Global 500 company.

3. Base salary is roughly 80% of Toronto BigLaw for equivalent year of call. Pension, options, RRSP match kind of thingy, bonuses, health and dental, some other goodies.

4. Pro - everything we work on is ours, not the product of some mercenary who doesn't need to deal with the outcome (good or bad). Con - working in an environment where most people are operating at a somewhat less sophisticated level. Not really a con, but can be frustrating at times.

5. There ain't no guarantees in life. A company can get rid of you just as easy as a law firm can. But the career path can lead to much more than just being a lawyer. Many of our senior executives are lawyers by training but have transitioned to non-law positions.

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Thanks for sharing everyone!

 

If anyone has any experience of articling in-house rather than going Bay Street first, I'd love to hear about it! I know the positions are very rare...but how are they found? What qualities would make a candidate more appealing for an in-house position straight after law school?

 

For those of you who have gone to Bay Street for a few years and left for in-house...would you have skipped straight to in-house if you had the opportunity?

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I'll take a stab at this too. :-P

 

How are the opportunities for someone straight out of law school, compared to the traditional 3-5years biglaw route to in-house practice?

 

How are the salaries, hours, and work conditions generally like?

 

What area of law do in-house lawyers generally practice in? I realize it can be diverse and depend on the company you work for, but which area of law generally have the best opportunities for in-house?

 

  1. Straight out of law school - nearly impossible unless you article in house. Although I have heard of people articling at a big firm, not getting hired back, then going in house.
  2. Salaries vary significantly, but a constant factor is you're probably going to make less than at a big firm. That pay gap will widen as you progress in your career. I'd say in Toronto as a junior in house lawyer you're looking at 80-120k, and as a senior lawyer maybe 140-180k? Then GC is a whole different ball game. But again, varies from company to company and industry to industry.
  3. Corporate/commercial law.

 

Will you describe a typical day at your gig?

 

Totally different each day. A typical day could be:

 

8:30 AM - get to work, grab a coffee, check emails from overnight

9:00 AM - meeting with client

9:30 AM - back to desk, review materials / legal research for an afternoon meeting

10:30 AM - review contract from other client

11: 30 AM - check emails again

12:00 - lunch at desk while responding to emails

12:30 PM - review more contracts or deal with an urgent internal matter

1:00 PM - meeting that I prepared for at 9:30

2:00 PM - head to another meeting

2:30 PM - sit down, take phone call from client

2:45 PM - grab afternoon coffee

3:00 PM - do more work (contracts etc.)

4:00 PM - check/respond to emails

5:00 PM - do more work

6:00 PM - respond to last minute emails, prep for next day, finish little items

6:30 PM - head home

 

A busy day might look like this:

8:30 AM - get to work, grab a coffee, check emails from overnight

9:00 AM - get pulled into a meeting about some urgent matter

10:30 AM - start work on urgent matter

11:30 AM - field calls about urgent matter

12: 00 PM - lunch at desk, check emails

12:30 PM - do regular work

2:00 PM - get called into a meeting about urgent matter

3:00 PM - deal with urgent matter

4:00 PM - do regular work

5:00 PM -last minute meeting on urgent matter

7:00 PM - go home, but field emails about said matter

 

1. How many hours do you work?

2. How big is the company you work for?

3. Whats the salary range, benefits, stock options?

4. What are the pros and cons in comparison with biglaw?

5. Im guessing theres no up and out like big law, so whats the career advancement track?

  1. 50 hours/week? Work through lunch, check blackberry in evening/weekend on occasion
  2. 5000+ 
  3. see above, benefits are standard for a large company, other perks/stock options depending on how senior you are
  4. Pros: Hours, predictibility, variety of work, no fighting for clients (for the most part), no docketing. Cons: not as complex, multibillion dollar deals as in biglaw, some clients not sophisticated (?)
  5. Legal counsel --> sr. legal counsel -> GC, exit ops: move to the business, another company at a higher position, etc. 
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Thanks for sharing everyone!

 

If anyone has any experience of articling in-house rather than going Bay Street first, I'd love to hear about it! I know the positions are very rare...but how are they found? What qualities would make a candidate more appealing for an in-house position straight after law school?

 

For those of you who have gone to Bay Street for a few years and left for in-house...would you have skipped straight to in-house if you had the opportunity?

 

I articled in house. I loooved it. I think the positions are quite rare, but it seems more companies are trying this out. I found mine on a job board and interviewed per the usual way. The competition for those spots are tougher than for a bay street job, statistically speaking of course, in that you're competing with 200+ applicants for 1 spot, rather than 20 applicants for one spot at OCIs. I don't think companies care as much about grades than the firms, so in that sense it's less competitive. Qualities...probably your communication skills, confidence, any prior work experience especially in a corporate setting, an MBA is helpful, demonstrated interest in that company or industry...

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For those of you who have gone to Bay Street for a few years and left for in-house...would you have skipped straight to in-house if you had the opportunity?

 

I would not have. I couldn't get a position like I have without the firm experience. We do have articling students here, though, and it could be a good experience depending on what you want to get into.

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A day in the life:

 

 

Your job sounds really cool. You are a senior lawyer right?

 

I would not have. I couldn't get a position like I have without the firm experience. We do have articling students here, though, and it could be a good experience depending on what you want to get into.

 

If I had a do over, I would definitely have liked to have firm experience first...

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I couldn't say I have a typical day. But the stuff I'm typically doing over the course of a week lines up fairly closely with the stuff I was doing at the firm:

 

  • Receiving Statement of Claim or other originating process, investigating facts, drafting Defence or response
  • Meeting with witnesses to investigate claims or prepare case
  • Prepping case for litigation - drafting opening statements, examination plans, cross-examination plans
  • Reviewing documents for production... chasing down employees to give me documents
  • Legal research to prepare for oral argument at hearing or to draft written submissions
  • Advise people around here who have questions about what they can or can't do in certain areas
  • Keep my bosses up to date on any issues that are bigger than a single proceeding and need an organizational response
  • Go grab coffee with colleagues

And the best part

  • Go to hearing
  • Receive favourable decision and distribute it to witnesses and other people affected

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I'm curious whether large companies actually hire litigators for anything other than litigation-specific roles.  It sounds like Jaggers was hired into a litigation role within the company, which makes sense --- but are litigators ever considered for GC or board positions?  I get this question a lot from students, and it'd be cool to have an informed answer.

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In my experience, companies only hire litigators to do litigation specific work. Small companies won't hire litigators in house at all. These litigation roles could vary from litigation management to actual litigating. And it would have to be a company whereby its business is litigious in nature, such as insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, large companies who cater to the public (ie for slip and fall type cases), banks. For a GC/board reporting role, the person would have to be well versed in business and corporate law (eg. able to read financial statements) so a corporate lawyer would lend more naturally to that type of role, for the most part.

 

Associates who work in insurance defence or personal injury law ask me from time to time about advice to move in house, and unfortunately for the most part they are SOL because in house jobs are quite competitive, and companies generally hire from big firms that do similar work, especially those that work in firms where that company is a client. (And some companies won't hire you unless you have previous in house experience)

Edited by goldencuffs
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