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Big Law Firm vs In-House Counsel

neverbornneverborn Posts: 1,877Registered User Senior Member
edited June 2006 in Law School
Lots is said about a big law firm - from its starting $125-145K to the billable hours to the never leaving.

Nothing is ever said about in-house counsel? Is it comparable in salary? hours? never leaving?
Post edited by neverborn on

Replies to: Big Law Firm vs In-House Counsel

  • kb54010kb54010 Posts: 1,133Registered User Senior Member
    I'm rather interested in this question myself...what's the skinny??
  • AmericanskiAmericanski Posts: 683Registered User Member
    It doesn't pay as much, the hours are better and I don't know what you mean by "never leaving."
  • sallyawpsallyawp Posts: 2,059Registered User Senior Member
    As someone who made the leap from NYC biglaw to corporate in house counsel here is the scoop. You generally can't go in house right out of law school. Corporations do not have the resources to train lawyers, so they leave it to law firms to do that work for them. You will have to work a minimum of three years at a law firm to get the experience that in house law departments are looking for. Most in house jobs are looking for lawyers with significantly more experience -- usually 6-10 years or more. In fact, it has been a constant observation for me (and for many of my law school classmates and former colleagues) that the lawyers who make the move in house at a more junior level (say, with three years of experience) often get leapfrogged in title, pay and responsibility down the road by lawyers with the same amount of experience who move in house from a law firm several years later.

    In house jobs vary tremendously. Some jobs, especially the ones typically offered to more junior lawyers, often require the lawyer taking those jobs to do what I consider to be more tedious work -- work that is similar every day (e.g. filling out governmental regulatory forms, etc.). You can also do complex transactional work in house, but again, those jobs typically require lawyers with significantly more experience and knowledge. The ability to "go in house" also varies depending on your area of specialty in your law firm. I often see positions open for attorneys who can do corporate secretarial work (i.e. SEC filings (1934 Act), reviewing press releases, working with the board of directors, etc.), corporate compliance work (often in the context of investment management companies including private equity funds and hedge funds), intellectual property work (admission to the patent bar is often required, so pure transactional experience would be insufficient), employee benefits attorneys and general corporate work (including, for example, mergers and acquisitions, contract drafting and management, litigation management, antitrust counseling and a tremendous variety of other work). Less frequently, I see openings for litigators to go in house to do litigation work or to manage a company's litigation. Most Fortune 500 companies still do hire outside law firms to handle their litigation matters, particularly because for a large corporation, these matters arise under the laws of many different states and typically, a lawyer is admitted in only one or two jurisdictions. You do hear about litigators who have made it as generalist lawyers in house, but it is not very common.

    As for hours and lifestyle, there are many in house jobs where you can have a much more manageable lifestyle -- working only 50 or so hours a week is not uncommon. That said, in house lawyers typically take a pretty stiff pay cut for the privilege of working in house. For example, when I finally left law firm life, I worked at a Fortune 100 company with a great title and tremendous responsibilities for 70% of the base salary that I made at a law firm while working 80-90 hours a week. Raises in house are typically just like the rest of corporate America - 3-4% per year (unlike law firm raises, which can be $20-25,000 a pop) and bonuses are often much smaller than the typical law firm bonuses. Salaries and bonuses for attorneys who go in house at investment banks are a bit better, though their hours on average are longer too. In house lawyers may get benefits like a pension and a matching 401k that are typically not available to law firm lawyers, but pensions are not what they used to be, and the differential in benefits is not that large. Don't underestimate how difficult it is to escape the golden handcuffs of law firm salaries and bonuses.

    So, that's the story. Going in house is not generally an option coming out of law school, nor would it typically be a well advised move out of law school even if an opportunity was available.
  • neverbornneverborn Posts: 1,877Registered User Senior Member
    Why is it desirable at all? Is the pay cut worth the hour cut?
  • lkf725lkf725 Posts: 4,781Registered User Senior Member
    It sounds like a personal decision to me. A friend of mine did exactly what sally described with going in house after many years of experience. He has a nice salary and the time to enjoy it!
  • sallyawpsallyawp Posts: 2,059Registered User Senior Member
    Your hours and your pay vary tremendously with the organizaation for which you work and with the particular position that you have within that organization. I do know that many people who buy their BMW and their McMansion can't afford the pay cut -- it depends on the lifestyle to which you are willing to become accustomed.
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