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Work-Life Balance for the In-House Attorney: Myth or Reality?

By Tanya Roth, Esq. | Last updated on

You often hear that an in-house counsel job will afford you the work-life balance that so many attorneys crave. It's not uncommon for BigLaw refugees to flock to in-house positions, hoping that they can now put their feet up and have some balance in their lives.

Now, if you're coming from Big Law, with the 80-plus hour work-week, an in-house job may seem like an amnesty. But is the concept of work-life balance a myth or reality for the in-house lawyer?

It depends on how you look at it.

According to Simon Fish, General Counsel for Bank of Montreal, in-house work "is not a sanctuary for those looking for a slower pace."

In fact, Fish says that he's actually closed the door on career candidates who said that they wanted in-house counsel jobs for work-life balance.

The in-house counsel role, although very different from the law firm role, requires a high degree of flexibility, initiative and the ability to switch hats at a moment's notice.

It also requires a strong business acumen and an understanding of business process. As in- house counsel, you have to master the art of project management: Communicate, collaborate and facilitate.

Being in-house requires a high degree of availability. After all, the in-house counsel is the final point in the risk management chain at the company -- the last line of defense or sometimes, the only line of defense.

According to a survey by UC Hastings College of the Law, typical in-house lawyers work 50-hour work weeks. Part-time positions are also harder to find for those seeking in-house jobs.

So really, the answer as to whether in-house counsel jobs offer work-life balance comes down to what an attorney defines as work-life balance.

If you're looking to work hard in a rewarding legal job and still be home in time for dinner on most days, an in-house job might offer you the balance you seek.

If, however, you seek part-time work, you may be better off looking for work at a small firm.

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