Posted by Lisa Hamilton on Thursday, March 13, 2014 - 00:00
In an age when general counsel must explain to their chief financial officers why they need every budget dollar, one of the main ways legal departments are responding is by reducing their spending on outside counsel. This means many GCs are likely to make new hires and expand in-house legal jobs in the months ahead. If you're a law firm attorney interested in a position that combines both legal expertise and business acumen and offers more work-life balance, you may want to consider transitioning to a corporate lawyer position.
As a corporate attorney, you may have significant influence on the legal aspects of business operations and a chance to deepen your knowledge in particular areas of the law. Are you ready for the switch? Here are three questions you should ask yourself when applying for a corporate lawyer position:
1. Do I have the right technical skills?
Before applying, you should determine whether your transferable skills and areas of specialty will be a close fit for the company and the in-house legal jobs you're targeting. Candidates may be required to have experience at a law firm or have previously worked in-house for another company in the same industry. This can be especially true in specialized or highly regulated fields such as healthcare. Candidates also need to possess knowledge of corporate legal matters that are typically of concern to businesses, such as transactional, regulatory law and compliance issues. Legal job seekers with well-developed business acumen are likely to have a smoother transition.
2. What interpersonal skills are required for corporate lawyers?
It’s particularly important that you possess strong interpersonal skills because in-house counsel interact with representatives from all areas of the business. Companies look for candidates who have strong communication skills and the ability to collaborate with diverse groups. Tact and diplomacy also are highly valued.
Another valued trait is the self-assurance to interact with senior management and provide pushback when necessary. What the business wants to do and what the business should do, at least from a legal perspective, aren’t always the same, and corporate lawyers must help leadership walk that line.
3. What are the advantages and tradeoffs of in-house legal jobs?
Some corporate lawyer positions offer some advantages over working in a law firm, especially for candidates who desire an improved work/life balance. Unlike their law firm counterparts, corporate lawyers aren’t driven by the constant pressure of billable hours and they don’t have to spend time attracting new clients. That can provide the flexibility needed to better manage professional and personal obligations.
At the same time, corporate lawyers can still work long hours and encounter required travel. In-house counsel jobs typically involve a limited scope of work compared to their law firm counterparts. They may also have to adjust to a different work environment that includes working alone more often and interacting with other attorneys only rarely.
The bottom line is that candidates who are looking for a job that will allow them to utilize their legal and business knowledge will likely find corporate legal department work rewarding as they get more involved in helping to grow a business.
To learn about hiring and compensation trends for in-house legal jobs, download a complimentary copy of the Robert Half Legal Salary Guide.