There are many perks when it comes to attorneys working in-house for a corporate legal department. Just consider, for example, that these lawyers do not have to worry about billable hours and attracting new clients. But, the reality is that it takes a very particular lawyer to make a great in-house legal eagle. Further, in-house attorneys must possess certain skills that may not weigh as heavily for their law firm counter-parts. Five quickly come to mind.
Law firm attorneys often specialize in one or two practice areas (e.g., intellectual property, estate planning, medical malpractice, etc.). Lawyers working for a company, however, are considered legal generalists. They handle a varied caseload that includes a broad spectrum of legal issues and a dynamic set of responsibilities. This requires that these attorneys be knowledgeable on many different aspects of the law.
Given this, it is often difficult for law school graduates to land an in-house position. The reason is that they just don’t have the pedigree to work for a company until reaching the mid-to senior level role. Internships are a great way for new attorneys to gain the broad-based experience required of company lawyers.
Yes, lawyers working in-house are generalists, but they must also have heavy experience in transactional dealings. This includes transactional experience dealing with corporate issues, securities, mergers and acquisitions and possibly even intellectual property, real estate, and labor and employment matters. Unlike attorneys in law firms, litigation skills are not that important. The reason is that companies typically send litigation issues to outside attorneys.
In-house attorneys must know the industry they’re working in. Businesses work in a particular field and its dealings are often defined by the intricacies within that field. Thus, it’s paramount that lawyers working for a business know the details of the industry and how those details affect every aspect of their job. They must also possess an understanding of business forecasts and how those could impact legal undertakings.
Lawyers that work for corporate legal departments have great communication skills. Okay, maybe law firm attorneys do too. But, unlike lawyers in a firm, in-house attorneys must be able to communicate effectively with not just other lawyers, but with many types of non-lawyers. Some of these could include: executives, board members, salesmen, human resource personnel, researchers, administrative personnel, agents, and information technology professionals.
Attorneys in firms do have to have a degree of creativity to effectively solve legal problems. However, in-house lawyers generally must possess a tad bit more creative juice. The reason is that business problems can grow quite complex, and they may include a number of different parties in different states and even different countries. Given the enormity in which these problems can rise to, in-house lawyers must have a strong balance of exceptional legal skills and creativity that can fuel solutions. This creativity should also be able to look into the future to find innovative answers to anticipated risks.
“THE” In-house attorney has a different background and skill set than “THE” law firm attorney. Both professionals do share many similar traits, but attorneys working for a business must be sharper at certain tasks and more knowledgeable on specific issues. While the above focuses on lawyers working for a business, please know that QUID PRO QUO supports candidates searching for both in-house and law firm roles. And, we ‘re always here to help you find your next big opportunity. Please contact us now and let’s get to work.