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Going From Government to In-House: Tips and Warnings

By William Vogeler, Esq. on March 03, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

If you are looking to leave a government job to work for a corporation, here's a tip: maybe you should look elsewhere.

Literally, you may have to change your search parameters because the Google results for "government lawyers leaving for corporate work" is not very encouraging. Even Corporate Counsel, a top-tier result for anything related to corporate counsel, makes it look like a daunting task.

It might take searching for "how to use government experience in the private sector" or "how lawyers can make more money without losing government benefits" to get better results. With that in mind, here are some tips -- and warnings -- about leaving government work:

Challenging but Not Impossible

Government lawyers and corporate counsel were sometimes considered the "poor cousins" among lawyers. Times are changing, but they still have their challenges.

For example, Mark Nielsen, general counsel of Frontier Communications and former legal counsel to Mitt Romney, says it is not easy to go from government to corporate work. He says it really takes expertise in certain areas, such as:

  • SEC reporting
  • Corporate governance
  • Class action litigation
  • Compliance
  • Intellectual property
  • M&A

Nielsen says these areas have "cross-over appeal" for corporations. Companies value experience at certain government agencies more than at others. The Securities and Exchange Commission and the antitrust division of the Department of Justice, for example, give government attorneys a valuable inside look that they can take in-house.

Government Job Best He Ever Had

Brian Tannebaum, writing for Above the Law, says he should never have left his government job. He was good at it, and he didn't have to bother with the business of law.

"The main reason people leave government is the perception that there is more money in the private sector," he says.

Tannenbaum says that might have been true in the past, but not so much today. Government employers often have benefits packages that are better -- and less expensive -- than private plans.

Harrison Barnes, working for legal recruiter BCG, said there are myths about going in-house. He said it is not a dream job; it just looks that way.

"Most often, going in-house is a career killer," he said, particularly for litigators.

Inside a corporation, Barnes said, lawyers lose their litigation skills. Also, corporations usually look for general counsel from within the corporate world, not government.

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