In-house Legal Departments are No Longer “Boutique”
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If you thought the in-house lawyer couldn't catch up to you in her sneakers, better glance over your shoulder. She and her in-house colleagues are catching up. What's more, they're in demand by employers across the business spectrum. You don't have to belong to a law firm to find a thrilling and rewarding career as an attorney. There are currently 13,481in-house jobs on Law Crossing's website.That may seem like a lot, but with many law graduates still looking for positions, there will be competition. According to the most recent American Bar Association stats, many recent law grads are still unemployed; 10.6% of the 2012 class, and 11.2% of the 2013 class.
The biggest motivation, as in all business, is cost.Of course, there's the obvious goal of cutting down on legal fees. Top tier law firms come at a very steep price, and the need for legal counsel only grows with the company. It becomes a matter of logic then that in-house departments are looking to bulk up their legal muscle. As a company's in-house capacity grows, they can shrink their roster of outside counsel. And in choosing associates, in-house departments are becoming just as picky as the law firms are.
There is a new point of view for the in-house lawyer. Legal work, of course, is still the job, but you're not necessarily working on lawsuits. Your goal in many cases is to prevent them from happening. Another focus will be keeping pace with industrial, tradeand governmental regulations. Litigation is still critically important, both inside and outside the company. Internally, in-house general counsel and attorneys will handle employment issues, compliance matters and litigation work. Some general counsels feel that it contributes to a more cohesive culture within the in-house team, and the company as a whole. In-house attorneys are now expected to get to know the company, help it grow and be an equal partner in its success. No longer are they just lobbing opinions from the sidelines.
In-house departments are also upping their technology profile. They are staying on a par with other company departments by stepping up participation in operations, hiring practices and communications, as well as goal setting and policy development. Trending most are legal professionals who don't practice law, but instead are hired to run the in-house operations. New occupations with familiar names like Chief of Staff and Operations Manager are coming into lead in-house counsel, implementing eBilling and tracking key performance indicators (KPIs). These new professionals have to stay ahead of change and be mindful of strategy.
Association memberships are growing - and helping to grow - the field. Chief Legal Operations Committee ("CLOC") groups now exist in New York, Chicago, Houston, Northern California and Southern California. Their estimated combined membership is over 250. Five years ago, the total number of legal operations professionals nationally was about ten percent of this figure. During this time, group association membership in New York has grown between five and seven percent. In-house legal operations teams are now creating an increasing number of partnerships with law firm CIOs.
With a surfeit of law school graduates in recent years, there's a lot of legal talent competing for a berth. Companies can hold out for the person who is "just the right fit" for the firm. In-house departments are now attracting the top percentile of law graduates. There are some advantages to working in-house, even though you may not be getting the premium hourly rate your peers enjoy. The hours are a little more predictable, for one thing. And there's great cachet working for brands like Toshiba, RPX. Bloomberg or Google, all of which have current legal openings in-house. You'll share mutual goals with your colleagues and be part of a more tight-knit unit. With opportunities for advancement and higher profiles within the company boardroom, the awareness of a cultural shift is growing within the legal community.
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