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How Can General Counsel Make Career Switches? Follow General Counsel Donald B. Mitchell's Example.

published April 07, 2008

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Have you ever considered leaving your in-house career and going to work at a law firm? If you have, you're not alone. Many lawyers have made the switch. However, more and more aren't stopping there. In fact, after a few years they're switching back.

The "one-way street" analogy many once believed described the path navigated by lawyers switching from firms to in-house positions no longer exists. Instead, lawyers are making the switch from firms to in-house and then back again. Why? Because the experience they acquire in-house becomes "invaluable" for law firms.

Making the Career Switch from In-House to a Firm: No Longer a One-Way Street

"It seems that just as law firm experience provides important skills for in-house counsel, the in-house experience can be valuable to law firms. Those returning to firms with in-house experience have not only legal skills but also contacts and perspective that can help with getting and keeping business," writes Katheryn Hayes Tucker of the Fulton County Daily Report.

"They can go back to a firm and help on the business side with client relations," says the president of the Association of Corporate Counsel, Frederick J. Krebs. "It would be tremendously valuable in a law firm."

What It Takes to Make the Switch from In-House to a Firm and Back Again: Patience and Experience

Sound adventurous? Too challenging? Maybe. But don't think you can't do it. After all, Krebs said, "you see much more of people going both ways." Who, for example? Donald B. Mitchell.

Mitchell, who graduated from the University of Miami School of Law, began working at a Miami law firm that concentrated on aviation defense litigation. However, his love of aviation drove him to Atlanta to pursue an in-house counsel position at Delta Air Lines. After two years of waiting, Mitchell finally got in. He had made his first switch from law firm to in-house. Soon, he advanced.

"I was promoted into a non-legal position managing aircraft acquisition and sales," he says.

However, he missed the legal focus of his career and considered a change once more. And he made one. Mitchell went back to a law firm.

Nevertheless, his experience in-house was entirely beneficial.

"Having worked at Delta at the time, partly learning the technical aspects of aviation and also learning what's important to an airline," was very helpful, he says. "It helps me no matter which side of the table I'm sitting on."


If you're thinking about switching from a job at a law firm to an in-house job and then back again, consider your strengths and your passions. Mitchell, having worked at a firm associated with aviation work, applied for an in-house job at Delta. Then, when he made his final switch, he selected a law firm where his aviation experience would benefit him and the company.

What about you? What kind of experiences are you cultivating that you can carry with you when you decide to make a switch — or two?