As a Third-year IP Transactional Attorney, Should I Go In-house?

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I'm a third-year IP transactional attorney in the Bay Area and am considering a move in-house. There is definitely a demand for my skill set in this market. However, I've been told that I'm too junior to make the transition and I would be better off staying at a firm. Is there any truth to that?


The decision to transition out of a firm and to a company certainly should not be taken lightly, no matter what level. There are some elements of working in-house that may seem attractive. Many attorneys have taken this step and are very happy. However, you are spot on by being concerned about making this transition too soon, as many attorneys I've spoken to have done this too prematurely and their career path has suffered.

Is making an in-house move right for you?

When looking to make a transition from a firm to a company, here are some things to consider:

TRAINING. Companies do not mentor or train attorneys the same way that law firms do. This is why a move in-house could be a massive misstep if an attorney is too junior. While peers at firms may be working on more sophisticated and challenging deals, growing their skill set, an in-house attorney is more likely to hit a plateau. In other words, whatever an attorney's competence level is when they leave a firm is likely to remain at that level.

MONEY. If you have been at a law firm, particularly an AM LAW 200, you are probably used to a certain salary level. While companies may try to live up to this salary, many cannot. They could attempt to lure you with discretionary bonuses and other methods of making up the salary discrepancy, but these bonuses tend to come in a lump sum and are not in a regular paycheck. These bonuses are also the first to go when companies suffer financial difficulties.

HOURS. Many attorneys believe that companies offer a more regular schedule. It is important to know that this is not always the case. After making the move in-house, attorneys could find themselves working just as many hours and not being compensated for them.

UPWARD MOBILITY. Depending on the company (of course) many attorneys find that they hit a "ceiling" with their career trajectory. While at a firm, the sky is the limit (depending on an attorney's ability to pound the pavement). Within a company, someone typically has to move out for the attorney to move up. How many Assistant Vice Presidents can a company have?

THE PRACTICE OF LAW. A very common complaint I receive from attorneys that have transitioned to an in-house role is that they miss the practice of law. In-house roles involve a good deal of administrative work which can certainly prove repetitive. Also, the more complex and sophisticated matters are often outsourced to law firms, leaving some to feel unchallenged.

LATERALING FROM IN-HOUSE TO A FIRM IS DIFFICULT. Once an attorney makes a move in-house, it can be very difficult to explain to a firm the "why." Firms will assume that the attorney does not really see his/her future in a law firm environment or that they are not committed to building business. Additionally, the time spent in-house is seen as a gap in training and advancement. If the attorney were to receive in offer, they will likely have to discount these years of practice.

I am not trying to dissuade you, if you honestly believe a move to a company is better suited for your lifestyle. As a third year, you are pretty young in the "grand scheme" of your career. I view this as a time for you to elevate your skill set, work hard, learn as much as you can, make a name for yourself and then see where you stand in another three years or so.

Summary: The decision to transition out of a firm and to a company certainly should not be taken lightly, no matter what level.

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