These are challenging times for the legal profession, especially Biglaw firms and lawyers. But in-house counsel are not immune from the downturn, with many lawyers at major companies losing their jobs as well.
Contrary to the view of some Biglaw lawyers, in-house life is not some sort of professional paradise. In-house lawyers face many of the same challenges that their counterparts at law firms face, including layoffs.
That said, there will always be many Biglaw attorneys who wish to jump to the client side. Even during the current crisis, there are some in-house jobs out there. And once the current tough times are behind us, there will be even more such opportunities.
How can you get an in-house legal job? Here are three tips.
1. Network, network, network.
Yes, this advice is clichéd, but that’s because it’s true. Many of the best in-house positions get filled through networking. Sure, a Fortune 100 company looking for a general counsel might hire a headhunting firm to fill the role (and here at Lateral Link, we are happy to help companies find in-house talent). But a startup or emerging company looking for its first GC — a job that many Biglaw lawyers view as their “dream job” — will often fill it with someone known to a founder or someone in the founder’s network.
As longtime ATL columnist and in-house lawyer Mark Herrmann correctly points out, networking is no guarantee that you’ll find that job, but it certainly increases the chances. So even if you’re fairly happy at your current law firm, you should let your network know that you would be open to the right in-house opportunity if it came along. If your network doesn’t know, then they might not mention it to you when they see a great in-house job, thinking (erroneously) that you are firmly planted at your firm.
And when thinking about who’s in your network for this purpose, don’t draw the circle too tightly, e.g., by limiting it to your closest friends. Research shows that people frequently find new jobs through their weak ties as opposed to their strong ones. And of course you should try to expand your universe of connections — through networking.
2. Check the major job sites on a regular basis.
Whenever I meet an in-house lawyer, I ask her how she landed her job. And despite the importance of networking, as just discussed, you’d be surprised at how many in-house attorneys found their positions through responding to online postings — on sites including but not limited to LinkedIn, the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) jobs board, GoInhouse, Monster, and Indeed.
Not every in-house legal job gets posted on such sites, but the ones that do get posted are (for the most part) real jobs. When I helped a friend of mine, the GC of a small but publicly traded pharma company, find a deputy GC last year, I posted the position on both LinkedIn and ACC.
When you’re slammed at work because of a deal or trial, it can be difficult to remember to check these sites. But the problem is that sometimes the best in-house opportunities are advertised online only for a limited time. Set a calendar reminder for yourself to check for online in-house jobs at a certain time each week or every other week and try to stick to it, even if you’re extremely busy.
3. Situate yourself at an in-house “feeder firm.”
When it comes to sending their lawyers into in-house jobs, not all firms are created equal. And perhaps surprisingly, it’s not the most prestigious firms that are the best at generating in-house exit options.
In fact, many of these firms are rather poor at preparing their lawyers for the in-house jump. These firms often engage in highly specialized work, while many corporations want their lawyers to have some breadth in their knowledge and skill sets. Also, the top firms often focus on “bet the company” deals or cases — but companies are often looking for lawyers who have familiarity with the more typical events in a company’s life cycle.
So if you’re at a firm that doesn’t seem to send many lawyers into in-house positions, consider moving to a firm that does — i.e., an in-house “feeder firm.” One of the most common ways for a Biglaw lawyer to make the transition to in-house life is to join a client, and in-house feeder firms are those with the best track records of sending their lawyers to clients (or to similar in-house opportunities). A knowledgeable legal recruiter can help you identify — and get hired by — an in-house feeder firm, so you can eventually move into the in-house job of your dreams.
If you’re already in-house and looking to add to your legal department, whether on a permanent or temporary basis — in times of tight budgets, hiring temporary lawyers on a contract basis can be especially attractive — recruiters can help as well. For assistance with your in-house hiring needs, please reach out to Monique Burt Williams, who recently assumed the role of CEO at Cadence Counsel, the in-house division of Lateral Link. She would be delighted to help you find top talent, especially candidates who would enhance the diversity of your organization to reflect a global economy, and she looks forward to hearing from you.