Just to be clear, I never hated being a firm lawyer. I practice in a niche field that I worked in prior to attending law school, and I care deeply about my industry. I remember when I left my last firm to go in-house for the first time, one of the mailroom guys couldn’t believe it and told me that I “really seemed to enjoy what I did.” And that was true! I was in an industry-specific practice group in a large law firm, and I learned a lot and got great experience that I still rely on heavily today. But all things considered I am much happier as an in-house lawyer than I was in the firm, and here are the five biggest reasons why:
I don’t have to bill my time.
This is pretty much a slam dunk for everyone who goes in-house. Yes, in general (but not always), you will probably make less money than you did in a firm. But it is hard to explain how liberating it is when you don’t live and die by six-minute increments. I do not miss keeping my time sheet open and logging every email and phone call, or lying in bed on Sunday night trying to calculate how many hours I needed to bill starting on Monday in order to keep pace with the firm’s targets. Now, although I have to move quickly to get through my workload, I don’t have to worry about taking time to understand an issue or whether something is billable. It’s a much better way to live and work.
I’m developing a deeper understanding of my company’s business and its industry.
Looking back, it was tough as a junior lawyer in a law firm to really cut through what the clients said they wanted and understand what they actually needed. I think this is because the only way you can be a trusted legal advisor is to really understand your clients’ business from the trenches. And, when you’re in-house, you will be in the trenches. You will not have an army of associates in your corner and often you will be dealing with business people who are quite senior to you. It will be sink or swim, but at least for me this has been the best way to learn. In time, you will become an expert on your industry. If you care about that industry – like I do – your role can be incredibly rewarding.
It’s more pleasant dealing with and supporting non-lawyers.
Let’s face it. Lawyers aren’t the easiest people to deal with. Whether in a transactional or a litigation setting, it seems like scorched earth is always the preferred approach. And that can still hold true in-house, except the majority of your time is spent dealing with business folks. Sure, that can also be unpleasant at times, especially the higher up you get and the more senior the executives you support. But I have found almost universally that it is easier to deal with non-lawyers on a day-to-day basis in-house than it was battling it out with associates, partners, opposing counsel, judges, court staff, and other lawyers when I was working in a law firm.
I like trying to get to “yes” instead of finding reasons to say “no.”
One of the biggest transitions from working in a firm to in-house practice is the shift in mindset. No longer are you trying to poke as many holes in a contract or an argument as possible. Instead, you need to move quickly, flag key issues, and explain them in plain English to the business in a way that allows them to make informed decisions. Frequently, that translates into them asking you, as legal counsel, whether there is a creative way that you can live with the structure of a deal or certain terms and conditions. In other words, it’s all about finding a way to make something happen instead of trying to kill it, drag it out, or squeeze billable hours from a bloody rock. At least in my view, it feels like a much more productive way to put your law degree to use.
I like the flexibility of working for a large corporation.
Look, working for an enormous company – or a large law firm, for that matter – has its pros and cons. But I think the upside of working for a large corporation – at least for me, and at this point in my career – greatly outweighs the negatives. I have a lot of independence to work where and when I want (provided my work is getting done) and in general nobody cares about face time on a day-to-day basis as long as they can ping me, email me, or get me on my cell phone. And they always can. Compared with making sure the partners saw me in my office when they walked in early in the morning and headed for the elevators at night, it’s an easy decision to trade more dollars and potential upside in the firm for (relative) time and freedom in-house.
If you’ve made the jump in-house, what do you think about my list? Do you agree it’s a better place to be, overall, or do you miss working in a law firm? Why or why not?