john grisham

We are In-House Lawyers - Ask Us Anything

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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)

 

This is like a sweeping generalization though. I know several lawyers from small firms who've recently gone in-house. I also know litigators who've taken up senior roles in-house that aren't litigation-oriented.

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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 wouldn't have.  As with Jaggers, I would not have gotten the position I have had I not cut my teeth in big law.  I also learned most of what I need to know in big law and could not have duplicated that knowledge base in-house.    

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I'll add to this from a very junior perspective.

 

Source: finishing in-house articles, though I've been in the role just shy of two years now (thanks NCA!). 

 

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?

 

Opportunities? There's a few - but they're the exception, and from what I've seen, they are arranged informally and usually in conjunction with a firm. For example, we have a medium-to-big-firm-sized legal department, and yet only 3 students (myself included) have articled here in the last ten years. 

 

Salaries, hours, conditions: I make what a big-firm articling student would. I worked 45-50 hour weeks, but definitely did a few 70+, depending on the demands of the business. Based on what I've seen within the company and on legal market surveys (Robert Half, ZSA, etc.), the 20-25% gap between big firms and in-house holds true up until year 5+, when there becomes a whole lot of variation based on whether you're taking on a managerial role, whether you're a partner, etc. 

 

Corporate/commercial is one thing just about every in-house legal department has in common. Past that, it's dependent on the company. Publicly traded? Add corporate secretarial work. Capital-intensive? Add financing and securities work. Deal with physical things? Add construction, real estate, etc. Energy industry? Add regulatory. Etc, etc.

 

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?

 

Lots of responsibility and direct exposure to clients, even at a very junior level. Several times now, I have managed external counsel and sought feedback from internal client groups in developing a legal dept position on (admittedly minor) sub-issues within a larger project. 

 

In-house might limit your choices re: other legal career paths. I say might because I haven't seen that yet. That said, it opens up a ton of corporate career paths. In my limited time here, a number of lawyers have taken business positions. As someone else noted, a ton of our senior-level management and executive have legal training. If you want to stay in the law, many larger in-house depts. have multiple tiers of management. Compensation here ranges from ~$300k (group leaders) - ~$500k (VP level) and up from there if you make GC. Senior Counsel here have left to take on GC roles at smaller companies. I also know of at least one partner in the city who was recruited out of an in-house position into their current role.   

 

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?

 

Yes. Very practice-dependent, though, and it is likely that the work those people were doing out in their small and boutique shops just isn't done by national brand firms due to conflict situations - so there's no national brand talent pool to draw from. Our current senior management very much favours national brand talent. 

 

 

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?

 

 

Right place, right time. If you're a star in a summer position in-house, for example, the things beyond your control (staffing needs, management receptiveness to the idea) might also align to give you a shot at a spot. Not something that happens often enough to bank on.  

 

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.

 

In the time I've been here, we've hired a few 2-4 year litigators to do corporate/commercial work. Some of that is based on overlap between litigation and the particular practices in question. AFAIK, which is admittedly little, there doesn't seem to be a lot of overlap between what a litigator does and what a GC or board member would be doing, unless the company is decidedly adversarial, like a "patent troll" business model... 

Edited by guest3
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Your job sounds really cool. You are a senior lawyer right?

 

 

 

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

Yes, senior.

 

It has it's OMFG I can't believe they pay me to do this moments. And then it has some big black SUV and Kevlar vests WTF am I doing here without my own weapon moments. And then it has which airport is this again moments (like today).

 

Wanna trade? :)

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Are you with the parentco or Canco?  I'd find it surprising if Canadian GCs have this much of an international travel requirement.

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Are you with the parentco or Canco?  I'd find it surprising if Canadian GCs have this much of an international travel requirement.

 

I can't comment on much more, but I talked to a GC awhile back who traveled a lot for work. I don't think as much as LCL, but I remember being shocked at the amount. It was global travel as well, to lots of really interesting places! 

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That's surprising.  I wonder why the GC of Canadian operations would need to crisis-manage internationally in person.

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Yes, senior.

 

It has it's OMFG I can't believe they pay me to do this moments. And then it has some big black SUV and Kevlar vests WTF am I doing here without my own weapon moments. And then it has which airport is this again moments (like today).

 

Wanna trade? :)

 

Yes...your job sounds like a hollywood movie.

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I've had partners that have had similar experiences, although they were given a bit more leeway by private security.  (S)he was handed a Beretta and told to shoot at anyone that isn't us.

 

You'd think LCL would have been given the benefit of a firearm due to his military experience.  I'd certainly send a formal, desperate request to the QM for a carbine if I was going to be in a kevlar situation.  I remember my lanes of fire!  Where are my mags, guys?

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Are you with the parentco or Canco?  I'd find it surprising if Canadian GCs have this much of an international travel requirement.

Edit: I poked fun at you in my original post, but then actually read what you wrote and my post didn't make sense.  My bad.  :)  

Edited by john grisham

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What kind of practice area involves lawyers actually being in the "kevlar situations" mentioned above?

And do most in-house lawyers travel a lot? International travel is something I've always considered a big plus as part of a job.

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I think "practice area" is generous.  Highly unique situations tend to put you in highly unique situations, not practice areas.  This lawyer had to go because the VIP he had to see in person was located in a war zone and could not be extracted.  I can't specify for a number of reasons.  Could have been anything from executing his will to assessing the evidence of terrorism for the sake of an insurance claim.

 

As I frequently have cause to repeat, there is no such thing as Sexy International Adventure Law.  You can't sign up for advanced courses and specialize in it.

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I think "practice area" is generous.  Highly unique situations tend to put you in highly unique situations, not practice areas.  This lawyer had to go because the VIP he had to see in person was located in a war zone and could not be extracted.  I can't specify for a number of reasons.  Could have been anything from executing his will to assessing the evidence of terrorism for the sake of an insurance claim.

 

As I frequently have cause to repeat, there is no such thing as Sexy International Adventure Law.  You can't sign up for advanced courses and specialize in it.

 

An experienced JAG in an active military maybe?

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Anyone in-house at something cool like a society? I'd be curious to see the difference between the above scenarios.

Edited by artsydork

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What kind of practice area involves lawyers actually being in the "kevlar situations" mentioned above?

And do most in-house lawyers travel a lot? International travel is something I've always considered a big plus as part of a job.

Transaction negotiation in a big sandbox, circa 2012.

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I've had partners that have had similar experiences, although they were given a bit more leeway by private security.  (S)he was handed a Beretta and told to shoot at anyone that isn't us.

 

You'd think LCL would have been given the benefit of a firearm due to his military experience.  I'd certainly send a formal, desperate request to the QM for a carbine if I was going to be in a kevlar situation.  I remember my lanes of fire!  Where are my mags, guys?

On the few occasions it's been relevant I've had full faith in our protection. But I've always let them know that I have a military background and can assist if needed.

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That's surprising.  I wonder why the GC of Canadian operations would need to crisis-manage internationally in person.

 

I got the impression that he didn't do a ton of crisis-management but more of going to check stuff out. I never really asked, which I am regretting now though. 

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