How to Best Prepare for an In-House Counsel Job
Every week, The Counsel Network is asked for our advice when associates and partners are considering to make a career move. Of course we are happy to field such calls to provide support to lawyers as they deliberate their future.
Recently, we’ve noticed an uptick in the size of many in-house departments across the country. And our phone is ringing with both General Counsel and HR professionals asking for help to find top legal talent to join their team.
One option lawyers might wish to consider is joining a corporate legal department and serve the company as an in-house lawyer. The most common questions we field about going in-house center around timing and how to best prepare to successfully land an in-house counsel job.
When in my career should I move in-house?
Largely, in-house departments are not looking to hire lawyers they need to train but rather hold a preference for lawyers bringing useful legal skills.
Although there might not be an ideal time to transition from private practice to in-house positions (or vice versa), we generally recommend Associates build a solid foundation of legal skills before making the move. In our experience as in-house legal recruiters, we find the optimal period for most Associates fall somewhere between 4-7 years post call. At this point, Associates are viewed as most attractive for General Counsel who are looking to hire.
How do I best prepare for moving in-house?
Gaining exposure to and experience with a wide variety of corporate/ commercial transactions is serves as the best background for going in-house.
Additionally, legal knowledge and experience within the context of the industry sector relative to the business of the targeted corporate legal department is particularly useful. Whether mining, energy, oil and gas, manufacturing or financial services – seek out the industry team in your firm to gain exposure to the sector as well as a few files.
Does specialization impact opportunity?
Litigators and other specialists (like tax, or IP) probably have the hardest time finding an in-house counsel job. Most in-house departments continue to refer such work to external counsel. If you specialize in litigation or tax (or other such specialty) your best chance to obtain an in-house counsel job is to target large in-house departments where they may need a specialist in those areas.
Some final thoughts……
Keep in mind that, when hiring, most General Counsel look for lawyers who have a pragmatic approach to the practice of law in the in-house environment. Often lawyers in private practice are paid to be risk assessors whose task it is to point out every potential problem in a given course of action. For in-house environments the risk spotting has to be balanced with the business objectives and weighed against relative cost implications. As the internal legal counsel, you may be looked upon to make the judgment call.
Becoming an in-house lawyer can be a rewarding next step. Prepare for moving in-house by turning your mind to these ideas now to best position yourself for the in-house counsel job and continue the dialogue regarding your career path.
Sameera Sereda is the Managing Partner and Chair, In-House Counsel Division at The Counsel Network, a Canadian legal recruitment firm specializing in legal talent management strategies covering all levels of lawyers and practices for both corporate legal departments and law firms. To discuss your career, contact Sameera at firstname.lastname@example.org or 403.444.1763.
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