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There are plenty of stories of lawyers leaving firm life. In fact, the attrition rates for associates are huge. That many lawyers will eventually move on is a given and it's no secret that many lawyers fleeing firm life would love to become in-house counsel or even GC's.
But, once the migration has been made, would a GC ever go back? Could she?
Why Would You?
For many lawyers, in-house work is the promised land, a Nirvana of decent pay, better work-life balance, predictable hours and substantive work. Why would anyone want to go back? For one, some lawyers may simply miss the pace of firm life -- the adrenaline and camaraderie that can develop when litigating a case or working to meet a late deadline.
There's also the Benjamins. Not that in house lawyers are underpaid -- a 2011 survey of the Association of Corporate Counsel found full time in-house attorneys in southern California were paid, on average, over $190,000 in 2010. That's no starvation wage. However, when accounting for experience and bonuses, there can still be more cash in firm work.
Finally, in-house work can just be a step in greater career development. Just like lawyers leave private practice for short terms in government service, so too can lawyers move back and forth between firm and industry jobs. An in-house lawyer who returns to a firm may bring with her a wealth of close corporate contacts and industry insights that she wouldn't have been able to develop in a firm.
But Could You?
Many firms prefer to hire from other firms, making it hard for someone who has left firm life to get back in. The longer a lawyer has been away from firms, the harder it can be to return to such work. Hiring partners may think that an in-house candidate has been out of practice or may not be able to adopt back to a firm's schedule. These biases, of course, can be disproven, especially by in-housers who have been practicing like firm attorneys, who have highly specialized skills, or who have made a name for themselves in house.
For in-house counsel wondering whether they should reconsider the firm -- go ahead. It's not impossible to return to your firm roots and your experience in-house can be a real benefit. Best of all, it leaves more in-house jobs for the rest of us.