The past few editions of the Career Brief have featured recent graduates who have gone directly into in-house counsel positions after graduation. This career path is one that seems to be increasingly possible.
In general, about 10-11% of the SJ Quinney graduates who are employed are working in business, including in-house counsel positions, 9 months after graduation. Given recent trends, it may be that these number will rise. In 2010, companies 6% spent more than in 2009 on their own in-house counsel, and actually reduced their spending on outside law firms. http://blogs.findlaw.com/in_house/2011/12/law-firms-losing-clients-money-as-in-house-counsel-thrives.html Several recent graduates have gone directly from law school into desirable in-house positions, and some current students have also landed positions as law clerks with corporate in-house counsel. Many find these jobs desirable because the pay can be very competitive with private practice, there is only one client to worry about and generally no billable hours to track. Some of these positions have some level of specialty required—in intellectual property, environmental issues, or finance/securities. Others do not require any such particular specialty, but a strong showing of interest in business issues and project management is very helpful. If you are thinking that you want to work in-house, consider the following tips:
Network all you can with corporate insiders—whether they are in the legal department or not. If you came from a corporate background prior to law school, nourish those contacts! You may be hired back into the company in a legal capacity, or those folks may move to a new company which holds new opportunities for you. Research alumni who have gone in-house, and contact them for advice. If you are getting a joint degree (MBA), be sure to utilize the services offered at the business school. Finally, don’t neglect networking with your classmates, including those in the classes above you who have worked in-house.
If you are still a student, attempt to get corporate-relevant work while you are here. Apply to companies with in-house departments, and be persistent. Offer to help on a project-basis—then do your best to impress them. Consider clinical offerings which relate to corporate work—New Ventures, SEC as a placement.
Consider developing and highlighting skills which many in-house departments value. If they don’t require not a particular specialty, some in-house counsel positions will place a high value on certain skills—such as cost-cutting, an ability to evaluate contracts, and project management skills. If those are areas in which you have experience, highlight them.