Phyllis Hawkins 2016-04-20 02:20:47
Admit it. You like being a lawyer but you’ve had moments where you’ve grown tired of continually having to develop business and bill your time. Wouldn’t it be great to chuck the time sheets and just have one client? Be involved in business deals from start to finish? Regular hours too! No weekends! The perks of an in-house attorney. Well, most of them anyway. So how do you go about moving in-house? And, even more importantly – should you? After staffing many in-house departments over the years, here are a few tips I can offer: First, most in-house positions go to transactional attorneys, especially those with corporate, and securities backgrounds followed by real estate, labor and employment, and intellectual property. Most corporations still refer active litigation matters to outside counsel so in-house opportunities for litigators are still rare. Most in-house positions require at least eight or more years of training in a law firm. This is because in a corporate legal department you must be able to give advice on a range of legal issues often on short notice – expertise that most entry and junior level attorneys have yet attained. You will indeed experience a number of lifestyle differences when you move inhouse. The biggest difference is keeping track of time is no longer necessary. There are times however, when you may need to work late at home or come in early, so inhouse is not a guaranteed nine to five job. Law firm attorneys have responsibilities to their clients and partners but have much more flexibility discharging these responsibilities. Also, in a law firm, you are a business/revenue generator while in-house legal departments are cost centers and part of the overall company budget. If you are someone who enjoys being your own boss, you are probably better off remaining in a law firm. In-house lawyers at all levels report to a superior – even the GC reports to the COO – and your boss will dictate your legal priorities and how you spend your time. Reporting directly to a deputy or associate general counsel rather than a general counsel, may also impact your involvement with higher level issues within the organization. In most corporate legal departments, a great deal of time is spent in meetings that are calendared by a superior. Your days may be unpredictable with various business and related legal issues needing immediate attention. As most in-house attorneys are generalists they handle a variety of legal issues and must be ready to provide a prompt answer. Debra Sirower, one of the rare litigation attorneys who was able to transition inhouse and now is Senior Litigation Counsel at Clear Channel, finds this aspect of being an in-house attorney especially rewarding. “In-house feels more like you are practicing law because you see your advice being relied upon, implemented, and the company taking steps based upon it.” Titles matter when you go in-house. Corporate legal departments are hierarchical and everyone has a rank and title with only one General Counsel at the top of the pyramid. Law firms of course, have multiple partners and much more opportunity for advancement. If you are in-house and aspire to become a GC, you may have to change companies. And to make it even harder, because GCs are one of a kind, there are always very few GC opportunities. Another consideration is that once a GC has lost their position – a common event when companies are acquired, fold or simply change ownership – it is incredibly difficult to locate another GC opportunity. This is one reason why in-house attorneys often end up moving to other cities. And to make it even more difficult, once you’ve been GC, to move back down the pecking order is not usually an option. Robert “Bob” Moya, formerly a partner with Quarles & Brady, was one of the lucky ones who was able to serve as GC of two Arizona corporations – first at Insight Enterprises, a technology company and later at Apollo Education Inc., a holding company for several educational institutions. Another option seldom available to inhouse attorneys is going back to law firms. Remember, you are now a senior level lawyer without clients. In addition to Bob Moya, one of the lucky few who have been able to make this transition, is Chris Van Tuyl, now a business attorney with Sacks Tierney. During his tenure in-house with three different public companies, one was acquired, one separated into two separate public companies, and the third underwent a merger. As a result, Van Tuyl found he had less control over his position as an inhouse attorney which resulted in significant changes to his role within these organizations. Since returning to private practice, Van Tuyl remembered that as a private practitioner, “attorneys build long-term client relationships and a book of business which can provide substantial independence, autonomy and stability.” All good considerations to keep in mind before moving in-house. Recognized by The American Lawyer as the doyenne of Phoenix legal recruiters, Phyllis Hawkins was Arizona’s first legal recruiter and has been in the business of legal search, recruitment and placement continuously since 1985. Recruiting exclusively in Arizona, Phyllis has been responsible for the staffing of most out-of-state firms locating in Phoenix and has placed hundreds of partners and experienced associates with Arizona law firms and corporations. A longtime board member and former president (1994- 96) of the National Association of Legal Search- Consultants (NALSC), Phyllis is a graduate of Arizona State University.
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