As an attorney in private practice, it might seem that an in-house job
may be preferable to the billable hours’ sweatshop environment in private law firms. Sometimes it may be true, but otherwise the only shift that happens is a change in work environment. It does not relieve you from carrying your work home, even if it is only in your mind, but you can carry it ‘home’ and you are no more forced to spend abominable lengths of time separated from your family and personal life and responsibilities.
The right reasons for moving from private practice to an in-house position:
In fact, despite the grass being always green on the other side of the river, experienced and respected in-house counsel say that moving from private practice to in-house is successful only when the person has the correct reasons backing his decision. And according to those who are truly experienced, the right reasons for an attorney to move from private practice to in-house are:
The challenges for moving from private practice to an in-house position
- You want to immerse yourself in the role of a strategic business advisor within the dynamics of a business rather than participating in specific legal matters
- You want your legal knowledge to contribute in actual decision making processes in a business
- You really want to thoroughly research and gain knowledge in a specific discipline in law
- You find a business and its activities so interesting that you would like to move from being an external adviser to becoming an integral part of the organization
- You like greater geographical flexibility and having your ‘home’ license in one state and still be able to do work in others
- You have dreams to become an entrepreneur and would like to acquire knowledge and first-hand experience of business dynamics and operations
There are many challenges while moving in-house from private practice though you are in a better position to manage your time and have greater pay security. Common problems faced by in-house attorneys include:
- Being sued as defendants in lawsuits by shareholders and other stakeholders of a business
- D&O insurances in companies usually do not cover general counsel or junior attorneys
- Continual conflict between requirements of rules of professional conduct as an attorney, and rules of conduct as an official who is part of the business organization
- Continually gathering the ire of senior management while trying to comply with the requirements of rules which mandate reporting of “credible evidence of any material violation.”
- Fulfilling the need to gain the trust and confidence of key business operatives
- Continual need of control to remain within the scope of offering legal advice as opposed to business advice
- Greater exposure to risks and lawsuits than in private practice as regards personal or work related conduct
When you move in-house from private practice, the employer now regards you as a source of expense, while previously you were regarded as a source of revenue. The difference can matter a great deal. It is a trade-off that is acceptable to some and not acceptable to others. Whatever is the reason for you to decide for moving in-house from private practice, be sure that what you gain is pay security and not job security, and what you gain are scheduled hours of physical presence at office, but not fewer hours of work, if you are to carry out your responsibilities.
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Harrison Barnes is the legal profession's mentor and may be the only person in your legal career who will tell you why you are not reaching your full potential and what you really need to do to grow as an attorney--regardless of how much it hurts. If you prefer truth to stagnation, growth to comfort, and actionable ideas instead of fluffy concepts, you and Harrison will get along just fine. If, however, you want to stay where you are, talk about your past successes, and feel comfortable, Harrison is not for you.
Truly great mentors are like parents, doctors, therapists, spiritual figures, and others because in order to help you they need to expose you to pain and expose your weaknesses. But suppose you act on the advice and pain created by a mentor. In that case, you will become better: a better attorney, better employees, a better boss, know where you are going, and appreciate where you have been--you will hopefully also become a happier and better person. As you learn from Harrison, he hopes he will become your mentor.
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