At some point in your legal career, you may decide transitioning to in-house counsel is for you. Such a role comes with many benefits, the first being no billables. The freedom of not tracking time is hugely liberating for many people.
With a single client, you don’t have to worry about shifting gears and learning new concepts. Instead, you can fully immerse yourself in an individual matter. Plus, you can invest in your company through private or public stock options, which, over time, can be worth more than traditional firm compensation or bonuses.
If you’re a lawyer making the switch to an in-house counsel role, here are a few things to keep in mind
1. You Should Watch the Market Closely
It can be challenging to find the right job at the ideal company, one that matches your background, expertise, and interest. Don’t start mass-mailing your resume to any open position you find. Instead, read about the sector that interests you most. Talk with recruiters to get an idea of what kinds of opportunities are available.
Start your job search before you’re ready to make the transition. Once you have a better sense of the market, you can fully understand where you fit in. If an offer comes along, you can choose to explore it or wait for something else.
2. You Should Target Your Interests
It’s critical to determine which industries hold your interest. If you have no curiosity about renewables, for instance, applying for a job at a well-known green energy company may not be worth your time. Target areas you’re passionate about, whether it’s technology, electronics or finance.
Take the time to determine which sectors excite you and only apply for positions you can see yourself working in for several years. It may help to consider your previous experience and which cases you preferred to work on. Where is the best place for you to apply your skills?
3. You Might Need to Relocate
Are you willing to move for the right position? Companies may ask this question when reviewing applications for in-house counsel. If you are ready to relocate, how far will you go? Prepare your answer to these questions before you start your job search.
If you’re flexible about where you live, you’ll have more opportunities to find the right position. Luckily, the job outlook for litigators is positive, with a 6% increase in roles by 2028.
4. You Should Be Realistic About Salary
Compensation packages for an in-house position will vary significantly from those at a law firm. For example, you may be looking at a base salary that is lower than your current one. However, the target bonus can be much larger, making the total pay equal or more than your existing income.
When reviewing an offer, always consider the total compensation package. You don’t want to make a quick decision without knowing all the details. You should also think about stock options when working as in-house counsel. Long-term payouts can often be higher than firm bonuses.
5. You Should Gain Relevant Experience
Once you’ve determined which industries you’re interested in, seek ways to gain valuable experience. In-house counsel, for example, will need to work closely with securities regulations. If possible, look for projects that will expose you to Securities Exchange Acts of 1933 and 1934. You should also boost your leadership experience, whether through managing junior attorneys or large-scale litigation.
Be sure to showcase your experience on your resume. Scan through position listing to see what companies are looking for — then, highlight relevant work in your cover letter. Make the information easy to find and read, whether through bullet points or bold text.
6. You Should Reach Out to Recruiters
Transitioning away from a law firm can open a world of opportunity for litigators. However, making the switch can be difficult and time-consuming. Many people find success by working with an experienced and well-connected legal recruiter. Any professional you trust should know the ins and outs of the industry and be able to offer timely advice.
A recruiter should be knowledgeable about hiring trends, salaries, bonuses, thriving markets and much more. They also tend to have personal relationships with hiring managers, providing candidates with a leg up over the traditional application process. One of the most significant advantages to this route is the amount of time a recruiter can save a job seeker.
7. You Should Understand Your Position
Some well-established lawyers at firms believe in-house positions are too junior for their level. Not wanting to take a step down in their careers, they decide to stay put. Remember, however, that in-house titles can vary significantly across organizations.
At one company, a corporate counsel position may be reasonably low level. At another business, however, that role may report directly to the general counsel. Your job and what it entitles will depend on the size of the organization and its legal team. If possible, research the company’s organizational hierarchy before you apply.
8. You Should Know the Company
To build credibility within a company, you must understand all aspects of its operations. What is the business structure, how large is it and how many people does it employ? What’s the nature of the industry?
It’s vital to know the organization’s locations of operations, both domestically and internationally. This answer will determine how you approach future problem-solving. You should also understand the typical approach to taking risks. In governance and decision-making, what role does the legal department take?
9. You Should Work on Communication
You’ll deal with people daily. As a result, it’s essential to make others feel at ease. You’ll need to develop excellent communication skills that effectively communicate concepts. As in-house counsel, you’ll also need to understand the office-wide politics to avoid stepping on any toes.
Master the basics of nonverbal communication. For example, don’t slouch when speaking, keep your arms at your sides and maintain eye contact when appropriate. You should also consider adopting an extemporaneous speaking style, where you write down the topics you want to discuss, but don’t memorize what you plan to say word-for-word.
10. You Should Boost Your Financial Literacy
In-house counsel must be knowledgeable about financial concepts, including how to run a business, balance a ledger, understand tax guidelines, work with statistics, calculate profit margins and more. Every problem involves money in some way, making this skill a near-requirement for a position.
To expand your financial literacy in your free time, you can:
- Read trusted publications.
- Listen to money podcasts.
- Take an online economics course.
- Read through government resources.
11. You Should Become a Problem-Solver
When a client proposes a lucrative project that fails to account for risk, the in-house counsel’s initial reaction may be to say no. However, giving negative responses repeatedly can lead to conflict with the client and a reputation as an obstacle to the business. Instead, develop strategies to become a problem-solver.
Rather than eliminating risk, look for ways to mitigate it. To give practical advice and offer solutions, you may need to assume some. Another option is to suggest alternatives instead of outright prohibiting a proposal. If you must say no, do so with credibility. Give the client a reason they can understand and accept.
12. You Should Understand Internal Clients
As in-house counsel, you will often advise and collaborate with internal clients in a variety of areas. As such, you must consider that they may require more support and guidance than they would request from a lawyer who bills at hourly rates. Be sure to schedule follow-ups to review legal options, discuss action items and provide project assistance.
It’s crucial to remember that you represent the company and not its constituents. You must avoid creating the impression that you represent an internal client in an individual capacity.
13. You Should Develop Emotional Intelligence
Emotional intelligence is your ability to recognize, understand and manage emotions — in yourself and others. If you want to be a leader in your position, a significant responsibility will include talking and socializing with people. You’ll need to know how to address sudden outbursts. Without emotional intelligence, problems may arise.
Luckily, this trait is one you can cultivate. To boost emotional intelligence, you should:
- Find an outlet: Discover a healthy way to externalize your emotions, such as a hobby, sports, meditation or therapy.
- Know your flaws: You must be self-aware and acknowledge your weaknesses. Learn to hold yourself accountable for mistakes.
- Practice empathy: Actively listens to what others are saying instead of mentally preparing a response.
14. You Should Think Strategically
To become a savvy in-house lawyer, you must gain a deep understanding of your company’s strategy and use this knowledge to anticipate and meet legal needs. The most successful litigators treat every client interaction as an opportunity to deepen their understanding of the organization.
Take advantage of company resources to learn more, including the website and intranet. If possible, participate in training workshops, attend business meetings and identify ways you can add value. Use this knowledge to craft solutions that fit the organization’s products, goals, and financials.
15. You Should Learn to Delegate
You’re likely in the habit of taking on as many billable hours as a client provides. This mindset can follow you in-house, leading to too much work on your plate and less efficiency in getting projects finished. Consider which tasks are strictly legal and which could be done by a businessperson.
Learn to say no when necessary. Then, determine how to tackle tasks efficiently. While you may want to multitask, it’s more productive to stick to one project at a time. Apply structure to your schedule with a calendar that visualizes your day. Assign appropriate time blocks to tasks and plan room for the unexpected.
16. You Should Be More Than a Lawyer
It’s essential to understand your primary responsibilities as in-house counsel. However, remember that you’ll often assume ancillary tasks that cover areas such as compliance, human resources, risk management and other roles. You should be able to manage multiple functions beyond that of a litigator.
When you work in-house, you’ll need to be a team leader, someone who can delegate tasks to others and communicate effectively. While you won’t need to crunch numbers or create paychecks, you’ll still have to understand financial concepts that impact the organization. You also must be a learner — someone who continuously acquires new, valuable knowledge.
17. You Should Plan Always Ahead
Once you find a position, it’s essential to continue developing your brand. Be sure to deliver high-quality work and collaborate with other team members consistently. Interact with all employees with a high level of professionalism. At the same time, you should understand and promote the company’s motivations.
While you may decide to stay at the first in-house position you land, you should also consider your future career goals. Do you want to move up the organization’s hierarchy? Perhaps you want to achieve a specific base salary? On the other hand, some litigators may decide to move to a business or sector entirely.
18. You Should Manage Your Frustrations
The switch from a law firm or private practice to in-house counsel can be a challenging one. To make it out in one piece, it’s vital to manage your expectations and frustrations. Some litigators are lucky, able to land an in-house position in less time. Others search for the right role for years. Even if you land interviews and job offers, it may take time to find something that fits your skill set.
Take an active and targeted approach to your job search by following the advice above. If an opportunity comes along, research the value it will bring before you make a decision.
In-house Counsel experience is an excellent way to become a well-rounded and savvy litigator. Some companies hire lawyers with less than five years of experience, while others pick graduates directly from law school. Keep these things in mind during your job search.
Making the move from private practice to in-house counsel can be a time-consuming process. However, if you’re proactive during the transition and keep the above advice in mind, you can identify and attain the right position.