In-house Counsel

What Happens after You’re Hired as In-House Counsel
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Summary: You’ve been hired to be an in-house attorney. Now what?

The lure of becoming an in-house attorney is strong. The legal departments in companies are often small or just you; and you get a steady paycheck without having to worry about billable hours. So if you just got a new in-house job, congrats! But if you’re coming from the law firm world or straight from law school, you may be wondering, What do I do now? 

  
What
Where


Assess your environment.

Anytime you take on a new job that means new people, new policies, and new environments. You never want to walk in like you own the place, so take some time to learn about your new job and get to know what is actually expected of you. Often times, in-house departments will not have an employee handbook that spells out your duties, but with time, you will start to figure out what are your most important issues and what documents tend to be used over and over, which will help you develop your own workflow system.

Join the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC).  

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Networking is an important aspect of any job, and joining the in-house attorney community, ACC, will help you meet others in your position, provide educational materials and events, and provide other helpful professional resources. Once you join the group, you have access to a member directory to help you find anyone, anywhere; and they also post job listings in case you ever want to move on from your current gig.

Expect to work hard. 

The rumor that an in-house job is cushy is just that–a rumor. While it may be less hours and stress than a law firm position, it is by no means easy and a time to slack. Attorney Gloria Cannon told BCG Attorney Search that she often worked 10-hour days as an in-house attorney, and that her day-to-day was always busy.

“Each day was incredibly busy, and there never seemed to be any downtime or days where I could just relax and log in seven hours of “professional reading” as I did at the law firm between deals,” Cannon said. “This was due to the fact that instead of working on one or two big deals, I typically handled approximately 20 to 30 different matters at a time. I found myself working at an almost-frenetic level from the minute I sat down at my desk until the end of the day because each morning there were inevitably several “fires” that had to be addressed before I could work on the matters that I had planned on focusing on for the day.”

Expect to interact with “clients” directly. 

Cannon added that being in-house means interacting directly with the businesspeople in her company whom she said are like “clients.” Because you are in-house, they expect you to respond quickly, and if they can’t reach you by phone or email, they’ll often just stop by your office unannounced.

“Because there was no hierarchy of associates similar to the law firm structure, each in-house attorney generally handled his or her matters on an independent basis without any assistance from junior associates or a team of paralegals,” Cannon said. “In addition, as businesspeople began to trust my capabilities, they often would come directly to me for advice instead of going through the general counsel. Thus, there was no “department head” who controlled my work flow.”

Do your own grunt work. 

Since most in-house departments are small, they often do not have the luxuries that law firms have. Meaning: no paralegals, no processing departments, or no legal support staff. According to Cannon, this means you have to revise your own mark ups and do other tasks you could normally pass on to someone else.

What tips do you have for any attorney venturing or wanting to venture in-house? Let us know in the comments below. 



 

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