In-House Counsel

Just accepted an in-house position with with a large legal dep’t of a large company after 20 years in private practice. Anyone care to help me understand the biggest cultural differences I’ll see?

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1) Business values $$ over the law. It’s important to learn how to support and risk rank. Also when to stand your ground. 2) Not all companies but many see legal as an obstacle. Sit in on meetings with your new business partners early to understand their goals. This will help when they come to you with something they can’t do. Work with them to adjust their plan to meet their goal within the bounds of the law. 3) Given your level of experience assuming you’ll be the GC or deputy GC. Office politics within legal are weird and there’s no longer a partner track. Think about what that means for growth and be upfront with your staff about opportunities for advancement. 4)For the business everything always seems like an emergency. Do your best to be proactive not just reactive. If you can join in on planning meetings to try to see where legal might be needed and insert yourself into the process early.

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I left an in house a few months ago and 100 percent agree here.

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Agree completely with A1. Also think it’s very important to change the way you think about referring work. There’s a transactional element to firm to firm referrals in practice, with expected reciprocity. You now are hiring people to do a job and make you look good. Hiring your former firm is fine if they are the best option but it’s. HUGE mistake to feel beholden you your existing network. There are lots of exceptional lawyers out here. Find the people who will make you look best by killing it on every assignment.

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1. Agree with above. Everything is a rush and you will initially be seen as a roadblock. The key is getting in on conversations early and set some expectations. It will always be a struggle to get in on conversations early because stuff is happening so fast and always happening. 2. Culturally, truly try to break down that lawyer stigma. Be a normal human being, but able to give quick answers and be able to find a work around. The key here is being pragmatic. If you are normal, help people understand, then they will be willing to bring you into conversations earlier. 3. You'll have to balance risk and get comfortable doing so. If you simply say.... Well here's the risks and don't actually get behind an option, then you're just a roadblock. Help the business folks understand the risks but also be willing to put some skin in the game. You're on the same team. 4. To wrap it up, you're on the same team. Be someone that folks feel comfortable coming to with questions. And in this day and age of me too, etc., I think you should focus on integrity. If you're the adult in the room, people will respect what you have to say when it comes time to making the tough decisions and having to say no without being able to find a workaround.

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That's absolutely correct. It's been an entirely different mindset, but I'm far more satisfied with inhouse life, as opposed to law firm life.

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More political and dealing with business executives who doubt your advice. I live it every day

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There is a huge learning curve when entering in-house. A lot of lawyers struggle to understand that they have a lot more responsibility and are more self sufficient now, i.e don’t have a paralegal or an assistant. Take the time to get to know all the different positions in your department and how they would work with you. It’ll save them, and you, a lot of back and forth about who should be doing what. In my company when firm lawyers join that’s their biggest struggle.

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Thanks. I’ve definitely been forewarned that I’m a solo practitioner within my area. It’s a big legal department (40+ lawyers), but I’m on a small team doing transactional work and I won’t have any associate to whom I will be able to delegate due diligence review like I historically have. Thankfully, I’m prepared for that adjustment (in that I understand that it is the case, but I’m definitely going to have to knock some rust off).

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Get ready for a lot of paperwork. Need new printer paper? Fill out 3 forms and get them signed by everyone and no one. Want to install Firefox because IE is not compatible with some websites? Fill out 2 forms and spend hours on the phone with IT. Basically: get used to bureaucracy and not getting sh*t done

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Christ man where do you work?!

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I went in-house for the first time after 15+ years in Govt and private practice. Best move I’ve ever made. Agree completely with A1 and the other posters. Be a help not a hindrance. Figure out how to help the business do what it wants to do with a reasonable amount of risk. And make recommendations — you’re kind of the decision-maker now so act like it. Finally, be prepared make recommendations quickly and based on incomplete information — the company generally can’t afford to wait a week while you muddle through an analysis. Make the decision and move on.

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I fairly recently made the same transition as OP after private practice for about the same time. There has been a LOT of great advice already given, but I wanted to add a couple things that will serve you very well in your new role. 1) Learn the business! I mean really, really know the business. You may not have to build the widget, code the interface, or make the sausage, but know what goes into the process and who does what. How does your company realize revenue? What are it's risks and how can you rate them from a scale of "no biggie" to "OMFG!" 2) If your company is public, read it filings. 3) Know the company's customers and its important suppliers/vendors. 4) Seek to understand how things have been done (and why), but be mindful of opportunities to find a better way. 5) Get to know your business clients great and small. 6) Learn the acronyms! If you don't know or aren't sure, ask! Best of luck in your new life on the inside! Enjoy being able to focus on doing quality work without the distraction of capturing .1 here or .4 there . . .

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