There are so many lawyers who are just not happy being in the profession today. American Bar Association research has shown that 28% of attorneys are at least mildly depressed, 19% claim to suffer from anxiety and almost 21% deal with drinking issues.
If you are reading this article, you may be among the hundreds of thousands of lawyers looking for a change. And if you are looking for a change from your current law job, but you're not ready yet to entirely stop using your law license, then you may want to consider an in house legal job (or as Leave Law Behind members often do, they make this one word, as in "Casey, how do I 'goinhouse'?")
If this change interests you, then you likely googled "in house legal job" or "general counsel jobs" or "corporate counsel jobs." And you feel that an in house legal job can let you have your cake and eat it too: You want to remain as an attorney, but you want to free yourself from most of the stress and anxiety of being an attorney in a firm or solo practice.
There is much truth to this. I (Casey) have been an in house counsel myself, and have helped many unhappy attorneys transition to general counsel jobs. This article will deep dive into the differences between an in house counsel job and the traditional law firm role you have now. We will also explore what you might want to watch out for when you're considering taking one of these jobs. This article will also help you decide whether an in house legal job might be that stepping stone to your dream career out of the law.
When You "Goinhouse", Your Day to Day Work Does Change.
Here are 7 Ways Your Work-Life Can Change:
- You work on a diverse set of projects. Many lawyers specialize in a particular area of the law and often cannot break free from it. And while some lawyers like their specialization, we know of many lawyers who would like to try something new. An in house legal job can provide that varied work some of us are craving. You also become a conduit between the business stakeholders and the legal needs of the company. General counsel jobs can also offer you an integral part of the overall business strategy. You may end up being a deeply trusted advisor to the principals in the company
- You only have ONE client. Tired of working with a considerable number of demanding clients? Only having one client can be one of the best perks of corporate counsel jobs! And while there is a lot to deal with in an in house legal job, working in the legal department of one company allows you to avoid being pulled into multiple directions and removes the headache of managing many different personalities, lawsuits, or large numbers of transactions. You also get to go broad and deep with your one client (the company you work for) and become an expert.
- Malpractice is usually not a worry. While you should always check your local state laws, it is implausible that you'd be exposed to malpractice while working in an in house legal job. Your employer could fire you for cause, but the threat of malpractice does not hang over you when you "goinhouse."
- You usually work fewer hours. Yes, we're going to say it: Work-Life Balance is possible while in an in house legal job. It doesn't mean it's a cakewalk - 60 hour weeks are not unheard of. But corporate counsel jobs usually call for 40 to 50 hour weeks. You usually get your weekends back. What would it be like to be home for dinner with your spouse and kids many nights of the week?
- You can make money in ways other than the billable hour. In some instances, salaries can be lower when you go in house than they are at firms. While salaries vary, compensation for corporate counsel jobs can begin around $130,000 to $150,000 on the lower end (for those with less experience or joining a smaller company) to $225,000 to $250,000 for highly experienced lawyers joining more prominent, public companies. But you no longer need to complete timesheets, and there are possibilities of earning more through stock options, bonuses, employee benefits, and other corporate compensation plans.
- There is less stress. Overall, an in house legal job can be less stressful than working in a firm. Just because you are in house, doesn't mean there is no stress. There are still deadlines to meet, pushy people to please, and demanding work to get done. But what it means is that you're working in a different environment than the law firm. The overbearing partners and the competitive associates aren't present. The large numbers of demanding clients are a thing of the past. The adversarial nature of the job is tempered, and you aren't always looked at to bring in new business. As with anything, it's a tradeoff. But if the stress of a traditional law job is driving you crazy, you will likely find a reprieve when you go in house.
- You can leave the law altogether. Being in house counsel enables you to see firsthand what other, "alternative" (non-law) jobs entail. You can use this time to make contacts, network, and assess which of these jobs out of the law might fit your skills and strengths, and then, when the time is right, make that move to transition out of the law altogether.
Want to learn the one main reason you're unhappy as an attorney? Click here.
Be Careful - There Are Some Downsides to Consider When You Go In House
It's not all peachy keen when you go in house. Here are five things that you may want to reconsider when you go in house.
- You are still an attorney. You still have to do legal work. So if you're sick of being an attorney, this can get old, very quickly.
- If you work in a small company, you'll be the only, or one of the only attorneys they employ. The work can pile up fast if you're not on top of it all.
- The hours can get long, and the job can be stressful at specific points of the company's business cycle. For example, if you're the attorney called upon to negotiate the sales team's licensing deals, the end of the quarter can be hectic. Like spending New Year's Eve late at the office to get the year-end done? I (Casey) have had to do that, and it's not much fun.
- In house legal jobs can be challenging to find and get, especially in the new, COVID impact world. In contrast, there are many more "alternative" (non-law") jobs for you to choose from.
- It can be difficult to go back to the law firm once you go in house. It's not impossible, but usually when you go in house, you stay in the corporate world as a lawyer, or transition to a new career and leave the law altogether (which is an excellent thing if you feel like you don't like being a lawyer any longer). As Adam tells our consulting clients, "If you don't like the traditional practice of law, why would you ever want to go back?"
A Great Benefit of Going In House
As we've mentioned above, if you're sick of being an attorney and are interested in exploring leaving the law altogether for an "alternative" career, an in house legal job can be a significant first step on your way out of the law. When you "goinhouse," you get to be around many non-lawyers and meet new kinds of people. You can see how many "alternative" jobs function, and then you can take your time and move into the right "non-law" job when you feel comfortable doing so.
At Leave Law Behind, many of our successful graduates who left the law did so via an in house legal job.
Mike Chestnut was a criminal lawyer with over 30 years of experience. He was doubtful he could transition out of the law. But after several months in the Leave Law Behind course, he was hired as the in-house counsel for a multi-company pharmacy firm. He is thrilled that he took the in-house-to-leave-the-law-route because his current role now allows him to move into increasingly more "non-law" roles, like project management, which are aligned with what we call his "Unique Genius."
Let me have him tell you in his own words:
"I have a great company that is using me as in-house counsel for contracts, compliance, HR, operations, etc. It is also training me by including me in the leadership team, operations team and are soon going to begin training as a project manager. The Project Manager aligns perfectly with my skills and strengths (what Leave Law Behind calls your "Unique Genius"), and my COO recognized it and suggested it. I am treated as much like a second COO, as I am the attorney. The dual role is incredible!"
In his in house legal job, Mike has:
- Made more money than he did make as an attorney
- Left criminal defense litigation for the corporate world, a space he's always wanted to explore
- Is now the "consigliere" and right-hand man/advisor to the COO and CEO
- IS the "CEO" of his new legal department
- Became an expert in ERISA, the ACA and in pharmaceutical law
- Is now being trained in project management
But this didn't happen in one fell swoop. Mike had many fears that the Leave Law Behind course helped him overcome, such as
- He was 57 years old when he started the Leave Law Behind course and felt he would be looked down upon due to being a bit older.
- He lives in a small town, not near any major metropolitan areas where most jobs are found.
- He primarily only did criminal law and had nearly no corporate experience.
- He wasn't sure he could make as much money if he were to leave his current lawyer role.
Again, more from Mike:
"I go to work now and love it! I have my bad days and stressful days, but nothing like what I had in private practice. My age and years of experience are appreciated, and there are plenty of resources to learn the technology that I don't know. It was an excellent move for me. I am on a whole new path now. I look forward to going to work, and I look forward to my future."
An in house legal job can be an excellent way for you to leave the anxiety of the law firm and still practice law.
And even better, if you're enjoying being an attorney less and less, and want to stop being a lawyer, an in house legal job can be a significant first step out of the law for the "alternative" job of your dreams.
As a first step, learn the one main reason that's keeping you unhappy as an attorney - click here to learn more.
We have written other articles and resources that can help you on your path out of the law. Five of our most popular and helpful are: