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In-house counsel seems like the ideal legal gig.
Power. Prestige. Stock options. Who doesn’t dream of such things?
But in-house jobs aren’t reserved solely for those lawyers who have paid their legal dues. There’s often room in the GC’s office for fledgling lawyers. Sometimes, there’s even room at the top.
Recently, we introduced you to Maria Musolino, an attorney who negotiated an extra $10,000 into her starting salary at her first job out of law school. What we didn't tell you was that Maria wasn't just in the General Counsel's office at that job; she was the GC. The job was General Counsel and Compliance Manager for a small financial services company.
"It was a small company, and the previous GC maxed out his salary," she recalls. "They wanted someone younger who they could pay less, and I fit the mold."
But the company didn't hire a clueless young lawyer to run its legal department. During law school, Maria worked in the legal department for a similar company, and her resume demonstrated her familiarity with the financial services regulatory structure.
If you're hoping for an in-house job straight out of law school, you need to get the right experience while you're in school. Maria suggests choosing a niche, (e.g., insurance, mortgage, construction), and looking for in-house or law firm internships where you can focus on that niche. Since in-house jobs tend to be highly specialized, you should customize your résumé for your niche by including some of the key terms for the industry.
For example, if you have a background with the financial industry, you could mention your experience with the Truth in Lending Act (TILA/Reg Z) or the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). Using the industry-specific buzzwords can make the difference between HR tossing your résumé into the discard pile, or calling you in for an interview.
While many may dream of leading the legal department at a Fortune 500 company, don't expect to walk to into the GC's office at an industry giant two weeks after you pass the bar. If you plan to start your career as an in-house attorney, you may need to start at a small company. And that can be a good thing: small companies offer more opportunities for you to learn and grow as an attorney.