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Finding and Applying to Corporate Law Departments

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One of the areas in which the most growth has taken place is corporate legal departments. There are several reasons for this phenomenon.

First, there is an increasing tendency to take legal work "in-house". The general counsels of various corporations are finding, and correctly so, that much of the routine securities practice can be more efficiently and economically handled by their own staff. Many corporate legal departments now prepare their own Forms 10-Q, 10-K, and routine proxy statements and work on Annual Reports to Shareholders. In some in stances, even the most sophisticated corporate and security transactions are handled by the legal staff of the actual company involved. Current evidence suggests that this trend will continue. Even major anti-trust litigation which used to be handled exclusively by outside counsel may now be handled by a team of lawyers including those from the corporation(s) named in the complaint.
Finding and Applying to Corporate Law Departments

The second reason for the growth of corporate legal departments lies in a corporation's ability to offer compensation pack ages which prove quite attractive particularly in terms of predictability and stability. Law firms are simply unable to offer the same kind of benefits. It is not uncommon, for example, to find senior staff attorneys who are working in corporations eligible for meaningful stock option and pension plan benefits, access to corporation owned or furnished vehicles and vacation homes, travel to international subsidiaries, and other forms of "non-taxable" benefits.

Corporate Law Departments

Moreover, corporations are finding that in order to attract and retain top flight legal talent they must promote from within. Historically one of the law firm's most appealing inducements related to its ability to place people who do not make partner with the firm's large corporate clients. The potential for such lateral placement in the future may be substantially limited because corporate legal departments are building better practices and are promoting attorneys from within their companies. Conversely, entry level opportunities should expand substantially.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, working in a corporate legal department offers an opportunity that generally is not available to outside counsel, even at the partner level, at least to the same extent. If an attorney so desired, he or she might have an opportunity to move into management. The number of chief executive officers of important United States corporations who have arrived through the general counsel's office is quite substantial. Having thus set the stage for what may truly be the only real growth industry left in the legal profession we must identify available openings and develop application techniques.

Initial Sources and Their Use

One of the major disadvantages from both the prospective law students' and the prospective corporate Legal Employers' points of view is that there is not currently available a single source that allows an applicant to identify all available corporate law department openings or opportunities.

Consequently, each applicant should consider his or her most routine sources of information about the various corporations. The basic reference guides are Moody's Industrials and Standard & Poors Corporation Record. These publications can be found in any available business reference section of the library or in a business school library. Indeed for most law students, particularly those enrolled in law schools offering joint JD-MBA programs, one could simply walk across the campus to the business school placement offices to see which corporations are interviewing MBA candidates. Chances are that many of those companies will be interested in lawyers as well. You may also want to apply directly for the business position. Of course that may require some diplomacy in coordination with the business school placement office. For further information any applicant may write to Standard & Poors Corporation at or Moody's Investor's Service. In addition, Martindale-Hubbell publishes a list of corporate law departments.

Developing Information about the Corporate Law Department

Even though the above-mentioned sources are valuable and important, it behooves you, the serious applicant, to learn as much as you can about the particular corporation in which you have interest. The first and probably most effective step to that end is to write the general counsel of the corporation asking for information about the law department. Most well-organized legal departments have information readily available and would be all too happy to provide it to potential applicants. Remember that practice of law is a business, and those interested in the business have a greater prospect of being hired.

Learn the 10 Factors That Matter to Big Firms More Than Where You Went to Law School

Application Techniques

Of course there are ever-increasing opportunities to interview for corporate legal departments at law schools through the law school placement services. Even if your law school offers significant opportunity to interview for corporate legal departments, you ought to consider approaching directly the legal departments of the corporations in which you are interested. As noted, the best way to do that is to write the general counsel. In so doing, you ought to develop an individualized technique which will encourage need for dialogue between you and the person responding to your letter. For example, use your new-found knowledge about the corporation to express your interest and to identify or even suggest a special niche for you as an individual. In other words, if you intend to deal successfully with corporate legal departments, you ought to do more than mail a formal letter with your resume.

In your letter to a corporate legal department, reveal your awareness of issues confronting them by asking such questions as: How many lawyers do you expect to hire? Are there any particular courses which should be taken? Do you use a regular outside law firm? How much work do they do? What kind of work do they do? How do the corporation's lawyers relate to outside counsel?

As you can see from the questions posed above, there are several keys to selecting a corporate legal department. One of the most important is the relationship with outside counsel. If staff lawyers are expected to perform most of the more tedious and routine legal transactions and, face the prospect of lateral hires to key positions, those factors should raise a serious concern in your mind about the potential of a given legal department. On the other hand, if you find a situation with a relatively small legal staff, with each member having some authority and responsibility for selecting outside counsel and overseeing their work or working in tandem with them on a given project or series of projects and with promotions to important positions coming from within the corporation, you may have an ideal situation. The thrust of this analysis is to en courage you to find out as much as you possibly can about the particular institution in which you are interested. Your interest and resultant knowledge will give you not only an advantage in identifying the opportunity but also an ability to take maximum advantage of the job possibilities available.

About Harrison Barnes
Harrison Barnes is the founder of LawCrossing and an internationally recognized expert in attorney search and placement. Harrison is extremely committed to and passionate about the profession of legal placement. Harrison’s writings about attorney careers and placement attract millions of reads each year. LawCrossing has been ranked on the Inc. 500 twice. For more information, please visit Harrison Barnes’ bio.

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Harrison Barnes does a weekly free webinar with live Q&A for attorneys and law students each Wednesday at 10:00 am PST. You can attend anonymously and ask questions about your career, this article, or any other legal career-related topics. You can sign up for the weekly webinar here: Register on Zoom

Harrison also does a weekly free webinar with live Q&A for law firms, companies, and others who hire attorneys each Wednesday at 10:00 am PST. You can sign up for the weekly webinar here: Register on Zoom

You can browse a list of past webinars here: Webinar Replays

You can also listen to Harrison Barnes Podcasts here: Attorney Career Advice Podcasts

You can also read Harrison Barnes' articles and books here: Harrison's Perspectives

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.

To read more career and life advice articles visit Harrison's personal blog.

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About Harrison Barnes

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