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We are In-House Lawyers - Ask Us Anything


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#51 Little Chicken Little

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Posted 14 October 2014 - 08:26 AM

Jaggers speaks truths. 

 

One of the live issues where I'm at right now is the selection and management of external counsel. I've heard several of the more senior lawyers express that their job is much less law and much more managing and distributing files. That may be unique to my company in its current state, but I'd love it if anybody who's currently in-house could share their thoughts on:

 

a) the selection process: how does your company pick who to use on a matter-to-matter or practice area basis; and

b) things successful external counsel provide that are 

      i) mission-critical 

      ii) nice-to-haves

      iii) areas many external counsel could look to improve; and

      iv) pet peeves

 

(a)  I hire external counsel based on the specific lawyer and his/her reputation, not the law firm.

(b) Understand what I'm looking for (and ask if it's not clear), be efficient, and don't be a jerk.  Constant communication on where things are at (and exercise some serious judgement before billing me for keeping me updated on status of things).



#52 Little Chicken Little

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Posted 14 October 2014 - 08:37 AM

 

 

Here's what I've been wondering for the past year or so:

 

1) Is there ever any reason why you would assign any legal work to an associate or junior partner directly, either barrister or solicitor-side?  Or is it just easier and more efficient to go with an established partner that is a known quantity and work with(/lure away) the associates under her? 

 

2) It must get incredibly tedious socializing with exterior counsel knowing that all of them are planning on making an ask for legal work at some point in the future.  How do you stomach it?  How can a service provider get/stay in the loop with your client without becoming annoying? 

 

3) Since you socialize in an unguarded way with other in-house personnel more than we can, what advice would you give to those of us just starting to build our book of business?  Chase startups?  Do a secondment with you? 

 

 

Caveat - I have enough bench strength that I rely very, very little on external counsel for day to day stuff.  Things are thrown over that either require a specialty that I don't necessarily have on the bench or because of internal workloads.

 

1)  Always have the associate/junior partner doing 99% of the work, since the 80/20 rule will always apply.  Most legal work doesn't really need to be done by the $1000/hour partner.  It just doesn't.  Like, really just doesn't.  Especially when it's my job to make sure the file is going the right way to achieve my objectives.

 

2) Meh.  If you get along with whomever is trying to pitch you then it's not too much of a task.  I'm quite open and honest with counsel that my need for external counsel is limited and specific.  Frankly, I'd expect anyone who is trying to pitch me to understand that to begin with if they've done their homework.

 

3) Unfortunately I'm not much help here, other than to say that doing good work and building a solid reputation will eventually lead to clients calling you rather than you needing to chase after them.  And the in house counsel bar, and the bar generally, does speak amongst itself as to who is "good" and who is "OMG don't even think of calling him/her/it"


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#53 IAmInterested

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Posted 19 October 2014 - 02:00 PM

Hi there,

 

I’d appreciate the input of those currently practicing as in-house counsel. I’m thinking of accepting an articling offer at a medium sized company (about 200 employees). Their focus is on the insurance, finance and tech. Their legal department is small about 3-4 lawyers but the company has been growing rapidly over the last few years (although company is about 30 years old). I’ve been told that I’ll be exposed to a wide range of legal and business work and that they are looking to hire someone for the long term, not just for the duration of articles. I’ve done my research and in-house counsel really interests me. I worked in a law firm during law school and it wasn’t my thing. So, I don’t mind skipping traditional law firm training for my articles if it means that I can have a meaningful career as an in-house lawyer.

 

Therefore, my question is: by accepting this position and potentially working there for about 5 years, will I be marketable to other (potentially larger) companies? I’m worried that since it’s a smaller company, potential employers won’t hire me. My resume might highlight some good experiences after working there, but the company I will have worked for might not carry that much weight (but who knows it might actually grow significantly and become a 1000+ shop by the time I want to leave).

 

Thanks



#54 MOL

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Posted 19 October 2014 - 09:00 PM

Do it. Grab every different kind of work you can and try get as much hands on experience (eg avoid becoming a memo monkey) as you can. Experience is experience is experience. And you'll likely get more of it at a smaller shop.

#55 guest3

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Posted 20 October 2014 - 07:37 AM

I think you're right to flag the potential risk of working at a smaller in-house department. If you find yourself out looking, hiring managers at other companies might not view you as being on the same level as someone from a large company or firm, because they just don't know the level of the work coming out of your department. You can go a ways towards mitigating that: last a few years in the position, keep an eye to the marketability of your practice (ie. corporate/commercial/secretarial >>> almost anything else you might do in-house, at least on the marketability scale), and cultivate contacts with external counsel and through other in-house associations, etc. 



#56 john grisham

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Posted 20 October 2014 - 10:12 AM

Hi there,
 
I’d appreciate the input of those currently practicing as in-house counsel. I’m thinking of accepting an articling offer at a medium sized company (about 200 employees). Their focus is on the insurance, finance and tech. Their legal department is small about 3-4 lawyers but the company has been growing rapidly over the last few years (although company is about 30 years old). I’ve been told that I’ll be exposed to a wide range of legal and business work and that they are looking to hire someone for the long term, not just for the duration of articles. I’ve done my research and in-house counsel really interests me. I worked in a law firm during law school and it wasn’t my thing. So, I don’t mind skipping traditional law firm training for my articles if it means that I can have a meaningful career as an in-house lawyer.
 
Therefore, my question is: by accepting this position and potentially working there for about 5 years, will I be marketable to other (potentially larger) companies? I’m worried that since it’s a smaller company, potential employers won’t hire me. My resume might highlight some good experiences after working there, but the company I will have worked for might not carry that much weight (but who knows it might actually grow significantly and become a 1000+ shop by the time I want to leave).
 
Thanks


After 5 years of in-house experience (regardless of the size of the company) you'll likely be in pretty good shape on the marketability side. Being a good in-house lawyer is a unique skill set (very distinct from private practice) so if you can show that you've done it for many years then you'll likely be seen as desirable by some in-house groups. Your closest competition from the private practice side will be lawyers who are very good at what they do (likely a thin slice of the law) but won't have any idea what it means to be a good in-house lawyer. I would expect you to have a bit of a leg up - all else being equal.

But more importantly, don't discount the potentially massive benefits to joining a small but growing company. You'll be getting in close to the ground floor and as the company grows so too (likely) will the legal group. You'll be a in a good position to get some title bumps - which will also help you quite a bit down the road. I'd be excited if I was you.
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#57 xyz

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Posted 21 October 2014 - 11:41 PM

Being a good in-house lawyer is a unique skill set (very distinct from private practice) so if you can show that you've done it for many years then you'll likely be seen as desirable by some in-house groups.

 

Mind elaborating on this a bit? I'd be interested to hear what particular skills are useful as a in-house lawyer, that may not hold true for a lawyer in private practice.



#58 Adrian

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Posted 22 October 2014 - 05:27 AM

Mind elaborating on this a bit? I'd be interested to hear what particular skills are useful as a in-house lawyer, that may not hold true for a lawyer in private practice.

 

 I am not an in-house lawyer.  However, I would think that those who are would need to be more concerned with the practical (i.e. business implications) of their legal advice and learn how to marry those two perspectives together. 


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#59 LivingLegend

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Posted 22 October 2014 - 06:25 AM

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.  

Since you moved in-house after only 2 years of practice, how important were your grades in the decision that led to your hiring?



#60 john grisham

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Posted 22 October 2014 - 08:34 AM

Since you moved in-house after only 2 years of practice, how important were your grades in the decision that led to your hiring?


Grades never came up. I think that my current employers probably figured if my grades were good enough to get a job at the firm I was working at then they probably didn't need to worry about them.
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#61 john grisham

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Posted 22 October 2014 - 08:45 AM

Mind elaborating on this a bit? I'd be interested to hear what particular skills are useful as a in-house lawyer, that may not hold true for a lawyer in private practice.


Most lawyers in private practice end up specializing in a relatively narrow band of the law (there are many exceptions to this rule, but just generally speaking). Most in-house lawyers do not specialize in any particular area because they need to handle a wide array of issues for a company. In-house lawyers often need to develop the ability to know a little bit about a lot of areas of law and then develop the management/organization/people skills to manage files relating to these far ranging issues. In-house lawyers are often expected to just know "the law" in all of its splendid glory. If you're asked a question you need to figure it out quickly (and it might be something you have relatively limited experience with). Sometimes that means reaching out to external counsel, sometimes it means doing some quick research, etc. It's quite a different skill set in my opinion. The benefit of private practice is that eventually things become old hat. You become specialized and people come to you for that specialized knowledge. You eventually get to the point where you just know the answers. In-house isn't like that. You need to keep a lot of balls in the air when you're in-house and your ability to deal with people becomes even more paramount. This is just my experience so far. Others may have entirely different experiences.
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#62 goldencuffs

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Posted 22 October 2014 - 11:16 AM

Since you moved in-house after only 2 years of practice, how important were your grades in the decision that led to your hiring?

 

My grades were terribly mediocre and when I got hired for articling, they didn't mention it. The only time since I was ever asked for grades was for my current job, and my boss never mentioned it in the interview or thereafter. I think legal departments are more concerned with your actual skillset and ability to communicate and present yourself well to internal clients, because high grades doesn't necessarily mean you have those skills. Whereas in the law firm setting, your product IS the lawyers doing the work so they have to justify their rates, by hiring top-notch (at least grades wise) law students and associates who have proven they are adept with substantive law.


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#63 xyz

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Posted 23 October 2014 - 12:27 PM

 I am not an in-house lawyer.  However, I would think that those who are would need to be more concerned with the practical (i.e. business implications) of their legal advice and learn how to marry those two perspectives together. 

 

I wouldn't think that this is any less true in private practice. A business wants practical legal advice whether they're getting it in-house or from external, private practice counsel.



#64 Adrian

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Posted 23 October 2014 - 12:48 PM

I wouldn't think that this is any less true in private practice. A business wants practical legal advice whether they're getting it in-house or from external, private practice counsel.

 

I think this is right to a certain extent.  However, when I was providing advice to clients as a practicing lawyer I was often given very little detail or was ask to assume certain things to be true (even after pushing for more detail), so often my opinion (with the necessary protections and caveats) were more idealistic than practical.   Even when I was given a context, it was still narrow when considering the full scope of the client's business.  An in-house lawyer, I would think, would be expected to know that full scope.


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#65 xyz

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Posted 23 October 2014 - 02:32 PM

I think this is right to a certain extent.  However, when I was providing advice to clients as a practicing lawyer I was often given very little detail or was ask to assume certain things to be true (even after pushing for more detail), so often my opinion (with the necessary protections and caveats) were more idealistic than practical.   Even when I was given a context, it was still narrow when considering the full scope of the client's business.  An in-house lawyer, I would think, would be expected to know that full scope.

Sure, but the question was how in-house lawyers need a distinct skill set from those in private practice.

 

What you're saying goes more to the different realities of each practice, as opposed to a different valuable skill set. The ability to give practical advice is a valuable skill regardless of whether you're in-house or private practice. Heck, most of the blurbs for each lawyer on a firm website have some reference to how this lawyer's advice is practical.



#66 john grisham

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Posted 23 October 2014 - 02:37 PM

I wouldn't think that this is any less true in private practice. A business wants practical legal advice whether they're getting it in-house or from external, private practice counsel.


The difference lies in the incentives at play. As a private practice lawyer, you want to give practical legal advice but you also don't want to get sued. This tends to lend itself to a more risk averse practice style and therefore more conservative advice. As an in-house lawyer, the threat of a legal malpractice suit is non-existent. The real threat is the company you're working for not succeeding (or destroying relationships with the business folks by gaining a reputation as a "deal killer"). You need to give legal advice, but you also don't want to get in the way of the business growing. Sometimes this means signing off on things that are a little more risky than you would have been comfortable with as external counsel. Generally speaking, when I deal with external counsel I fully expect them to be more conservative with their advice. I can then take that advice and gauge the risks vs. overall business rewards in a way that they don't really have the luxury of. It's a subtle difference (and maybe difficult to explain fully), but it's definitely there in my experience.

#67 xyz

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Posted 23 October 2014 - 03:10 PM

The difference lies in the incentives at play. As a private practice lawyer, you want to give practical legal advice but you also don't want to get sued. This tends to lend itself to a more risk averse practice style and therefore more conservative advice. As an in-house lawyer, the threat of a legal malpractice suit is non-existent. The real threat is the company you're working for not succeeding (or destroying relationships with the business folks by gaining a reputation as a "deal killer"). You need to give legal advice, but you also don't want to get in the way of the business growing. Sometimes this means signing off on things that are a little more risky than you would have been comfortable with as external counsel. Generally speaking, when I deal with external counsel I fully expect them to be more conservative with their advice. I can then take that advice and gauge the risks vs. overall business rewards in a way that they don't really have the luxury of. It's a subtle difference (and maybe difficult to explain fully), but it's definitely there in my experience.

 

Thanks for the insight. It's certainly an interesting line all lawyer have to walk. I prefer the idea of having to think about what's best for the business, without worrying about my exposure to being sued if it doesn't work out in the end.



#68 Chrysander

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Posted 23 October 2014 - 03:13 PM

Thanks for the insight. It's certainly an interesting line all lawyer have to walk. I prefer the idea of having to think about what's best for the business, without worrying about my exposure to being sued if it doesn't work out in the end.

 

That's why lawyers carry professional indemnity insurance.



#69 Marlo

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Posted 23 October 2014 - 03:30 PM

My grades were terribly mediocre and when I got hired for articling, they didn't mention it. The only time since I was ever asked for grades was for my current job, and my boss never mentioned it in the interview or thereafter. I think legal departments are more concerned with your actual skillset and ability to communicate and present yourself well to internal clients, because high grades doesn't necessarily mean you have those skills. Whereas in the law firm setting, your product IS the lawyers doing the work so they have to justify their rates, by hiring top-notch (at least grades wise) law students and associates who have proven they are adept with substantive law.

How does the career/promotional track look for someone who articles inhouse vs someone who enters inhouse after 5years of biglaw experience? Would the 5th year call with biglaw experience have a better higher position/salary than the 5th year call who articled inhouse?



#70 Chrysander

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Posted 23 October 2014 - 03:46 PM

How does the career/promotional track look for someone who articles inhouse vs someone who enters inhouse after 5years of biglaw experience? Would the 5th year call with biglaw experience have a better higher position/salary than the 5th year call who articled inhouse?

 

This doesn't make sense, promotions in companies are about workplace performance not prestige.



#71 xyz

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Posted 23 October 2014 - 03:58 PM

That's why lawyers carry professional indemnity insurance.

 

Yes, but I'd still prefer not to get sued.



#72 Little Chicken Little

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Posted 23 October 2014 - 04:21 PM

I wouldn't think that this is any less true in private practice. A business wants practical legal advice whether they're getting it in-house or from external, private practice counsel.


I see you haven't dealt with external counsel much :)
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#73 Little Chicken Little

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Posted 23 October 2014 - 04:21 PM

How does the career/promotional track look for someone who articles inhouse vs someone who enters inhouse after 5years of biglaw experience? Would the 5th year call with biglaw experience have a better higher position/salary than the 5th year call who articled inhouse?


No.

#74 xyz

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Posted 23 October 2014 - 07:33 PM

I see you haven't dealt with external counsel much :)

 

I'm saying it's an important skill for external counsel. I'm making no representations as to how common that skill is among external counsel.



#75 guest3

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Posted 24 October 2014 - 10:11 AM

How does the career/promotional track look for someone who articles inhouse vs someone who enters inhouse after 5years of biglaw experience? Would the 5th year call with biglaw experience have a better higher position/salary than the 5th year call who articled inhouse?

 

This doesn't make sense, promotions in companies are about workplace performance not prestige.

 

No.

 

I think you're asking two different questions. In terms of getting the job, my understanding is that there's a difference in the type and breadth of opportunities available to a 5-year call who's practiced in-house their whole career as compared to a 5-year call who's practiced at a big firm, and there may well be a pay difference in the beginning as well - there are a few legal market surveys out there that consider this aspect. In terms of rising through the ranks once you're hired inside a company, in my experience results are king, full stop.  

 

A personal anecdote: I'm just finishing in-house articling (>50 lawyers in the department). My hireback wasn't guaranteed at the beginning of articles, but I think I did okay because, as planned, my superiors created a permanent junior position within the same group and invited me to apply. Independently of this, but at about the same time, the GC, as well as the VP-level counsel in charge of the relevant practice group, indicated they had a strong preference for big-firm-trained candidates when considering applications for any open positions. Maybe that preference is a function of the size and scope of our department - or maybe it's just their unique views. I don't know.