Is going in-house all that its cracked up to be??? E.g., less money but less stress/more predictable schedule. Or is the utopian vision of an in-house position just a facade?? Thinking of going in-house from big law lit. Fully understand there are stressors in every job and no one company is exactly like another. Just looking for general info of how in-house (at major company) relates to big law (V25).

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I went in-house for a large publicly traded company in a mid market city after an extended period as a partner in a regional firm, so a bit of a different scenario, but maybe I’m the ghost of Christmas future for you (but a good ghost of Christmas future, if you will).

I’m part of a legal department that has more than 30 lawyers. Much like a small law firm, we have what are functionally different practice groups. My practice area is a common practice area at most law firms, but my particular role is a hard one to fill in a mid market city because my niche within that practice area is fairly sophisticated.

I came in at the mid level in-house position, but because of my niche and my experience, I think I am paid at the top end of the range for that role. When you view my total comp package, I am now making more than I did all but the last couple of years of my private practice. I anticipate being promoted in the not tom distant future (to the position one rung below GC), at which point I’ll exceed the comp of even my best years in private practice.

My workload has been manageable. I put in normal office hours during the week- mostly get in between 8:00 and 8:30 and leave between 6:00-6:30; bouncing early on Friday afternoons (4:00-4:15) - and rarely work weekends. Hours get longer during certain parts of my deals, but I haven’t yet experienced those stretches where I will work as hard as I did when I had multiple deals maturing at the same time in private practice.

I’m pretty much left alone by my AGC to do my own thing.

The biggest change has been the immersion with my business team. I always had close working relationships with my clients, but that was usually an in-house lawyer. Now it’s directly with the business team, and it’s a small group of people and the working relationship is close and tight knit. I really like it, in part because our GC has done an incredible job of causing us to be viewed as business partners rather than hurdles that have to be overcome. Unlike what you commonly hear, while we aren’t viewed as a profit center, I don’t think I’m viewed as a cost center either - I’m more viewed as a way to get $900k of necessary legal services per year at a very steep discount. While my comp was reduced this year and I don’t expect to get a cash bonus, I never felt like my job was in jeopardy.

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I went in-house about 5 years ago to a Fortune 400 company in a midsize market and started out lower than my firm pay. However, I found the career advancements to be pretty quick and I now make more than some of my big law colleagues. Yes, some still make more, but their work/life balance is much much worse. I generally work 8-5 and every once in a while get on the computer at night after my kids go to bed. Weekend work is definitely not expected or the norm, and I feel like my company and the Legal Division really care about the employees. That makes a HUGE difference. Also, no billables. I would highly recommend making the move.

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There’s just a huge, huge variety in-house so this is very hard to answer. You really need to go off your sense of the culture and work at the actual place you are interviewing and the team there.

Plenty of in-house jobs (probably smaller cos/start ups) that pay $100k or less and want you to be their only lawyer and one stop shop to do everything from contracts to litigation to HR to compliance to regulatory, never say no to them, still be on the hook even if they ignore your good advice, never/rarely hire outside counsel (and never biglaw) etc. (I’d avoid these, personally.)

I think what biglawyers imagine is a place that pays around $200k (plus small bonus), usually 9-6 but occasional emergencies, some amount of specialization but probably a fair amount of generalist work too, you probably have a GC you can report up to so everything isn’t on your shoulders. Those places exist too. Probably the sweet spot for most midlevel/senior associates in biglaw to exit to. Major companies like you said but “major company” is not a guarantee of good in-house life at all.

A few (v few) pay like/almost like/more than biglaw (when you include equity bonuses etc, probably not getting all cash) require a high degree of specialization/niche, 24/7 availability and responsiveness expected (but not quite as bad as biglaw generally), you have a GC you report to. If you’re not good enough to make partner or at least counsel in biglaw, good luck trying to get one of these gigs. Often the lawyers you see in these roles are very experienced, may have been a partner/counsel in biglaw before deciding to go in-house.

But this is v general. Each practice area is different and I may be biased by my practice area. For litigators, options are much fewer. Probably litigation management. Or they may expect you to do litigation management and also broaden to take on corporate generalist tasks.

Re stress, it’s just different stress. Hours may be less but you still have internal clients. They are literally coming by your office (if you are so lucky as to have one - probably not) and expecting instant answers that do not stop them from doing what they want to do. When outside counsel comes up with issue analysis and tells the client “ok, there’s the info and analysis, tell me what you’d like to do” that is now on you and your business team to figure out. You can’t throw your hands up and toss it to the client because you are the client. You can run into situations where your CEO/business team wants to be shady about following regulatory/compliance/labor law requirements (even at the most major companies) and you’re between a rock and a hard place and could be personally liable for breaking the law. That’s never/rarely going to be a concern in biglaw.

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Companies that litigate with any degree of regularity will benefit from having a litigator in-house. While transactional attorneys can manage outside litigators, there are benefits to having an in-house litigator who can speak the same language as outside counsel and who instinctively knows whether a proposed course of action in litigation makes sense. But not many companies need a full-time litigator—F100 companies will maybe have 1 FT litigator on staff. So if you get offered an in-house litigation spot, take it! And then broaden your portfolio ASAP to cover non litigation areas.

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I switched from big law to in-house and have worked for 3 different companies. I have never regretted the move. Yes the pay is lower. But some of the companies had bonus and stock options that can make up for that. The hours are fewer and the stress levels are far and away lower.
Of course there are times when there are late nights or weekends or difficult clients or stress: we are lawyers after all and solving complex problems and dealing with stressful and difficult situations comes with the territory
But the real joy of being in-house is getting to work closely with your clients. You get to help them early on with defining a project or solving a problem. My door is always open to my clients. I want them to come to me and brainstorm. That’s fun.

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I have worked in house exclusively since I graduated from law school and I agree with what has been said here. I can’t compare it to working at a firm, but it has been so good for my family and me. I currently work around 40 hours a week, sometimes slightly longer at the end of quarters. Lots of PTO, good pay >150k plus bonus and equity. Great co workers and occasional travel. Pay may be less but at least in my situation the balance of work v life is worth it.

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I am personally in the Denver metro area, but I am a remote worker. The company is based in the east coast. It is a software company with about 450 employees.

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I agree with C1. If you do go in-house as a litigator, then broaden your portfolio into non-litigation areas ASAP. Compliance and HR are usually good areas for in-house litigators to ease into because your skills are fairly transferable.

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If you find the right fit, in-house is amazing. I briefly worked for a firm, and then switched to a very large corporation. I hated it and regretted my decision. The culture of that company just did not fit my personality and I found myself getting pigeon-holed. Last year, I made the switch to a very young company as it’s only counsel. I love my job and my life so much more. While the pay isn’t as great as it would be in a big firm, the flexibility and culture certainly make up for it. And, as someone above suggested, a great perk is working with the client so closely. It provides an opportunity to guide a project correctly from the beginning, rather than cleaning up a mess. It’s also beneficial getting to understand the goals and aspirations of the client.

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Lots of good and thoughtful advice here. I’ll touch a few things I didn’t see mentioned:
1) I love litigators for more general in house roles (eg- commercial or product counsel) because in my experience they’re generally good at working through scenarios and strategy, issue spotting and working around issues. I prefer litigators for a commercial role than someone who’s done general commercial work at their firm. Also, I am not a litigator by core skill set (and stats tell you most GCs are not) and I like to have skills around me that are complementary.
2) I have a relatively large in house lit team (7 litigators plus 7 analysts who run the smaller matters as well as 2 billing analysts and 2 process people who manage subpoenas etc). We run our own matters for routine stuff - which for us is relatively complex lit- but “bet the farm” lit (eg - major class action) is absolutely briefed out and run by the subject matter expert atty partnered with one of my litigators.
3) most of my lawyers have fairly good schedules. I think the key to in house is not necessarily that you work less all the time, more that you have more
Control over your own schedule and in my experience you’ll find your clients and managers more respectful of “off” time, provided you have given them a backup!
4) for me, I work more than I would in a firm, carry more personal stress than I ever believed I could, but also feel more fulfilled in what I do than I ever thought I would. I also get paid more than most (OTE next year is likely around 3/3.5m). For me it’s not about the money (I realise easy to say, but my first in house role had a 65k salary), I genuinely love what I do every day and I love my team. I would tell you there is not enough money in the world to compensate for the personal liability that I carry and feel in some of my decision making.

For context: F500 CLO with a 120+ person team (lawyers and non lawyers).

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Oh, you also need to understand your reporting status vis a vis the SEC - meaning- does the company expect you to have responsibility for legal and compliance direction and policy for the company. If yes you’d be a s.16 officer of the company (I’d assume the coo already is one) which carries personal liability and reporting obligations that your team likely manage - if you are a s.16 the 30% bonus is low and I’d be looking up the company’s other s16s and their employment agreements on Edgar. If you won’t be a s 16 that’s fine, but it assumes that the coo or ceo has ultimate responsibility for legal and compliance policy, which tells you something about the role.

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I actually started in house and have been for 4 years, two different small companies. Both are in banking and a very niche area of banking. I basically consult with fintech companies to make sure they follow the rules. 95% of my time is regulatory work, other 5% is transactional. 105k plus okay benefits, 45 hour work week, no weekends. I’ve only ever worked in house actually and I love not having to deal with the non-law things I imagine in a firm, like billable hours, getting and keeping clients, ethical things like conflict of interest or malpractice (obviously apply buy just easier to manage).

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It really depends. My last in-house job I was working 60+ hours routinely. My boss was a nightmare and I was wayyy underpaid. If you are thinking about in-house my best advice is to really do your due diligence. Check out the company, role, and team/boss.

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Following bc this is some incredible insight as I go through the in-house job search

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I've been in house my whole career, so I can't compare personal experience, but I, of course, know generally what firm life looks like. I would echo others that there is huge variation in comp, culture, schedule, etc. But some if that you also get to have a hand in creating, and I think that's nice. I make probably 60-70% of what I'd make at a firm in the same region. I'm on my third company; at my last job I did a poor job of boundary-setting and worked 70 hour weeks as a standard (I thought if I worked really hard they would notice/commend/compensate for that: spoiler alert, that didn't happen), so at my new spot I'm making a real effort to be done at 6, and not work on the weekends. There will always be more work to do than you have time for in a day, and it's up to you to manage that workload and schedule with appropriate efficiency and hours, or it will run you.

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Thanks, C1. I’m not so much worried about venturing outside my specific area of law, or trying to stay specialized. I welcome a diverse practice. I’m more worried about getting overwhelmed with the quantity of work. I’m not looking to go in-house for an “easier” life (whatever that means); I am, in fact, excited about working for a single company and being closer to the business decisions. But I am hoping that it will be a bit easier to set boundaries and not get so many emails on Saturday afternoon telling me to work on Sunday morning and/or getting put directly in the middle of partner politics and/or not trusting a single soul I work with and/or being valued solely on the number of hours I bill.

Went inhouse 20 years ago and never looked back. Would do it all over again, exactly the same (7 years in big firm then inhouse). MUCH happier.

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Following as in the same boat!

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I agree with everything said so far. I Iove being in-house for all the reasons articulated. However, just to point out the negatives that can happen with being in-house so you have a better picture:

1. The legal department is a cost center, so it's hard to show your value without billables and there is always this underlying anxiety that there will be layoffs when management starts announcing "expense discipline", which is BTW often.

2. Your work is not the star of the show, and depending on the company and internal client, lawyers are seen has a hurdle, not a valued advisorand you are constantly justifying your existence. At smaller companies, legal and compliance can sometimes be there to rubber stamp the business practices, rather than provide substantive, actionable advice and there's nothing you can do except write CYA emails.

3. Also, maybe this probably says more about me than anything else, but I feel like the market sees in-house lawyers as a second-class lawyers that weren't "good enough" for BigLaw, but we're also seen as sales and business development opportunities that firm lawyers have to be nice to.

But I think the pros outweigh the cons overall, esp working closely with the business. The best part of the job.

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This is interesting. I’ve never thought of in-house as a second class position. But I wasn’t in BigLaw, so maybe there’s a difference when you are in a smaller market and coming from a regional firm. I honestly felt like I was able to grab a coveted gig.

If the guys from the local offices of BigLaw firms see it differently, frankly, I’m okay with that. You couldn’t pay me enough to go back to private practice. The nature of it was intolerable to me by the end. Tracking time, dealing with client billing complaints, acquiescing to unreasonable client demands on timing. Having the not always unspoken threat of clients changing lawyers looming out there. The uncertainty in your year over year comp. The intensely personal relationships within medium sized firms )100 lawyers). The subordination in the pecking order to the bigger rainmakers, even if they are lesser technical lawyers and managers. Business development demands. I could keep going . . .

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Yup. It’s the best.

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It was awesome (for me).

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It sounds like the most difficult role to transition from is a senior (15+years out) litigator in biglaw who doesn’t have prior in house experience.

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It’s a challenge for senior litigators to go in-house because generally speaking, a litigator with 5-7 years of experience can fill an in-house litigator spot perfectly well. And it’s hard for companies to see value for them in a senior lawyer who has tried dozens of cases, etc., except for those companies (like insurers) that try their own cases. But such jobs exist; you’ll just need to be patient and show flexibility on geography, which is probably less of an issue post-COVID anyway.

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In a lot of cases I have seen outside counsel act as an outsider to their clients and provide counsel that may be legally correct but not help their clients. In house you are your client and have to live with your counseling recommendations. That makes you as in house counsel become more creative in helping your client. Not that the advice is not legally correct or not compliant but you learn to be more creative in what you can advise your client. I am not saying all outside counsel are like this and the good ones act like they are aligned with their clients. But there is a difference being in house from your role as outside counsel.

Another difference is the ability to see things at an early stage rather than only seeing it when it is a blazing inferno. It’s nice in house to see the full spectrum of issues. For example in IP you are there when the lightbulb of the invention goes on through protecting it and enforcing it against infringers. To me there is satisfaction in that role.
Whatever you decide wish you good luck.

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I’m at a mid sized firm as a second year litigation associate (a little over a year of practice). I know I do not want to litigate and want to go in house. When do I leave?

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