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3 Reasons Not To Become an In House Counsel

By Edward Tan, JD | Last updated on

Firm life can be draining. Whether it's in BigLaw or a mom and pop, the practice of law can leave you questioning your career path sometimes. So when you get a call from a headhunter offering a chance to become an in house counsel, your natural inclination is to jump.

It seems like a wise choice and it definitely can be. But the pitfalls involved in taking such a leap can sometimes be more than you expect.

Becoming an in house counsel -- in theory -- sounds like a sweet gig. Gone are days of endless billable hours, erratic and long work days, and repetitive assignments. Hello 9-5 and big money.

However, the reality can be somewhat different. There are a lot of articles online that detail how these "relaxed" jobs occasionally transform into a nightmare. Here are some things to watch out for.

When you first start at a law firm, the general expectation is that you'll fall into a specialization or two relatively quickly. You'll likely then spend the next four or five years developing your skills in that area before you could be in a position to go in house.

But once you get there, your first task as an in house counsel will probably be to delegate all the legal work to someone else. The typical in house is usually more manager than lawyer. And over time this can take a toll on your legal abilities.

But what if you're okay with that? After all, that's why you made the jump in the first place. Well, than you'd better be happy in your new career because getting back into a law firm or even a different in house gig can be tough.

Right or wrong, many firms assume that the average in house counsel isn't practicing law at the same level or frequency as a firm lawyer.

You May Take a Big Paycut

Let's face it, most people who go to law school are in it for the money. Yeah, they may be interested in helping people or liked watching Law and Order. But the reason why they're not running charities or walking the street as a cop is because being a lawyer pays more. And in turn, being an in house can pay just as big, right?

The prospects of stock options and a hefty salary are usually all a headhunter has to say to get a senior associate to turncoat on their firm.

But the reality is that some estimates show that less than 1 in 50 attorneys ever make the same kind of money they did before jumping ship. The problem is that those lucrative stock options are often contingent on a company's profitability, among other things.

The Workload Might Not Change

This is the biggest bubble of all to burst. Some companies will impose just as long hours on their in house. Some make their GCs treat the various company departments as "clients" and require them to clock in a certain number of "billable" hours with them.

Occasionally, the work itself can be just as convoluted as when you were practicing law. Convoluted, as in resolving multi-jurisdictional disputes convoluted.

Of course, it must be noted that these things don't always happen when one goes in house. Much like in law school, the positions fall along a bell curve. Your mileage will vary.

Just hope that if you make the jump to in house you end up closer to the right side of it.

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