In-House Jobs Not So Cushy or Exciting

Legal Issues

If you think a jump from a law firm to an in-house position is the ticket to a cushy, stress-free job, think again. The life of an in-house lawyer is not exactly a bed of roses.

That’s the assessment of Gloria Noh Cannon, a former in-house lawyer who is now the managing director of BCG Attorney Search. She says that overall her in-house experience was a good one, but some aspects of the job didn’t live up to expectations. She decided to forewarn other lawyers considering a move in an article she wrote for LawCrossing on the five myths of in-house law practice.

She says the myths are:

Better hours and a better lifestyle await. Cannon worked anywhere from 10 to 14 hours a day in-house and never had any downtime. “Part of the reason for the craziness of the days was that there was no longer a buffer between me and my ‘clients’— i.e., the businesspeople within my company—who would often appear in my office if I did not respond immediately to their phone calls or emails,” she wrote.

If the job doesn’t work out, a return to private practice is possible. Cannon says law firms may fear a deterioration of lawyering skills or a lack of commitment to staying on long-term.

The work will be more exciting because in-house lawyers are at the center of the action. In-house counsel often get more mundane compliance and employment matters while the complicated issues are farmed outside, Cannon advises.

In-house pay rivals that of law firms. The days of lawyers leaping to high-tech startups with the promise of a big future payday are over. Most lawyers should expect a pay cut, Cannon says. Compensation structures are different, and often a significant portion of in-house pay comes in the form of a discretionary annual bonus.

In-house jobs are more secure. In-house lawyers aren’t profit centers, and companies may see in-house lawyers as expendable in a downturn, Cannon says.

Cannon’s conclusions aren’t shared by everyone. An article in the Fulton County Daily Report says in-house counsel are more likely nowadays to return to private practice with law firms. Frederick Krebs, president of the Washington-based Association of Corporate Counsel, told the publication that this is because of the increased stature of in-house jobs.

"It used to be a one-way street from law firm to in-house," Krebs said. "Now, you see much more of people going both ways."

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