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How to Move From the Law Office to the Corporate Suite

By William Vogeler, Esq. on April 18, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The road to general counsel often starts at BigLaw, but does not go from there directly to the corporate Big Chair.

Fewer corporations are hiring attorneys straight out of law firms to lead their legal business. In the past three years, the number of new hires from law firms has dropped to about 18 percent.

That's more than a bump in the road. It's a sign telling you how to go from the law office to the corporate office.

Corporate Ladder

Legal recruiter Cynthia Dow, a former big firm attorney and general counsel, recently explained the reality of the corporate ladder. According to statistics, lawyers have to climb it, too.

"In the three years between 2015 and 2017, we saw a decline in hiring talent from law firms directly into the GC role, with just 18 percent of all hires from law firms," Dow told Above the Law.

It means that if you want to be general counsel, get a lower in-house job first. "BigLaw only" is a step down on the resume.

"When going to an external candidate, the new hire typically had in-house experience, many with GC experience elsewhere," said Dow, who heads the Legal Officers Practice at Russell Reynolds Associates.

Other Routes

Startups offer another route to attorneys wanting to jump from law firm to the board room. Startup entrepreneurs often don't care as much about the pedigree as they do "the fit."

Valerie Fontaine, a legal search consultant, says companies also "overwhelmingly" favor lawyers who know and understand their business.

"The ideal in-house candidate has experience either working within or representing clients in the same or similar industry as the prospective employer," she says.

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