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Trust & Estate Admin Attorney - Remote California
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"Certain beneficiaries and trustees lacking legal counsel that we fund trust loans for, generally for tax relief and property buyout purposes -- need help from an attorney.  Your fees are paid by the family trust.  Contact us ASAP..."   We are ...

Should You Go In-House ?

The Benefits of Transitioning In-House Attorney and Legal Jobs & Placement

Certainly for as long as I have been an attorney, I have heard other attorneys ask this question literally every few weeks. Going in-house for a law firm attorney should be an educated decision. You need to understand that the decision you will make will have a profound and serious impact on your career-for better or for worse.

Going In-House Will Generally Give You Exposure to a Wider Variety of Issues in a Much Different Setting.

The work that attorneys do inside of law firms is generally fairly consistent. In a law firm, you will most likely be assigned to a given practice area and do most of your work for a small coterie of partners who tend to take similar cases, or work on similar types of matters and transactions.

Your life as an in-house attorney will be different, even vastly different depending upon the size of the corporation that you join. Nevertheless, in most circumstances, you will be called upon to comment on a far wider variety of issues than you would in a law firm.

When you are working inside of a corporation, you will often be consulting directly with executives. These executives do not care what your practice area specialty is. If they have a legal issue, they want you to answer the questions surrounding their issue. In addition, because these executives are not attorneys, they often are not cognizant of the line demarcating the law from a simple business issue. Therefore, when they are seeking your input, they will ask for a mix of business and legal advice.

It goes without saying that most new in-house attorneys just love being thrown this mix of business and legal work at the same time and having the ability to directly influence the moves and decisions of a corporation. Many in-house attorneys I have spoken with throughout the years have gotten rushes when they made decisions that affected tens of thousands of jobs and involved billions of dollars.

Going In-House May Give You Greater Long-Term Income Potential.

Working in an in-house environment can provide a ceiling for your income that far exceeds what you could ever earn as an attorney. Because attorneys inside corporations work so closely advising high-level executives and are "seen" a great deal, these same attorneys are also frequently the ones considered for high-level executive positions inside the companies they work for. In fact, several Fortune 500 companies have CEOs who are also attorneys and started out in the legal department. It is not uncommon for CEOs of major American corporations to be compensated more than $200,000,000 in a single year. At virtually any Am Law 100 law firm, it would take you several lifetimes as a partner to make this much money.

In addition to the potential for high-level executive compensation, there is also the potential for high-level compensation within the legal department. Many large corporations pay their senior attorneys and general counsels salaries equivalent to, if not greater than, what many of the higher-paying law firms pay their partners.

And no attorney should ever forget about the lure of stock options. Here, many attorneys who have gone in-house have earned millions and millions of dollars as the value of their places of employment skyrocketed during an IPO or new product launch. The value of working in a company with stock options is that the corporation is giving you the opportunity to share in its success and see the results of your investment of time and energy into the enterprise. While this also is an option when you are employed in a law firm, the potential in a corporation can be even greater depending upon how many options you receive and their potential long-term value.

Going In-House May Give You More Long-Term Stability.

There is little stability in most law firms. In fact, there is an "up or out" mentality that exists at most law firms. Inside of a law firm, if you are not made partner within a certain period of time, the law firm may ask you to leave. In addition, if the law firm does not ask you to leave, you may be relegated to a low-level service role, where you continually have a low place in the law firm hierarchy. Furthermore, many law firm offices are not all that stable. If you are in a branch office of a law firm that is not doing all that well, for all you know, the office could suddenly be closed one day. In certain cases, going in-house can provide you potentially more stability than a law firm.

Once you are working inside a corporation, chances are no one is going to pay a lot of attention to your billable hours and you will instead be evaluated on the merits of your work. While all corporations are organized differently, some companies even have unionized legal departments. Imagine this in a law firm! Most in-house attorneys believe companies are much more stable places to work because the pressures are much different from what they are inside of law firms.

In a law firm, there are the pressures of billable hours and making partner. As a partner inside a law firm, there are the pressures of generating business and growing your business. The pressure on a lawyer inside a corporation is much different. There are generally no billable hours, there is generally no up and out policy, and you only have one client-you do not need any more. For someone who likes to concentrate on his/her job and wants to concentrate on his/her work, an in-house environment may provide the ultimate experience. If you are working inside a corporation, you will not be subject to the same pressures attorneys inside law firms typically experience.

Working In-House May Give You More Oversight Power and Require Less "Grunt Work."

When you are working inside of a corporation as its in-house counsel, you may find you are actually not practicing much law at all. Instead, your role is to hire lawyers for the company, oversee the work that these attorneys are doing, and apprise management of exactly what is going on.

As an in-house attorney, you may quickly find that other attorneys inside law firms are eager to be your friends. With the ability to dole out work to various law firms, you may command a budget of tens of millions of dollars. Your role will be to protect the company's interest in the way it solves its legal issues.

Many corporations would prefer that their in-house attorneys assign complicated projects and litigation to outside counsel in order to ensure that the people working on their matters have the most expertise and incentive to win and/or do the best job possible. In addition, by having you hovering over the outside counsel and questioning their bills and such, the company has assurances that the work being done is occurring in a cost-effective manner.

Some attorneys like this sort of work a great deal. This means being available to be entertained by potential law firms who would like you as their client and also being able to fire bad law firms. Regardless of what you were doing when you were inside a law firm, you will be amazed how much differently attorneys treat you once you have the power to hire and fire them.

Working In-House May Give You More Predictable Hours.

While many attorneys in-house do work long hours, the fact of the matter is that for the most part, in-house attorneys work far more predictable hours than their law firm brethren. There are many reasons for this; however, without the demand for billable hours for most corporations' revenues, they do not expect their attorneys to work unbelievable hours.

In addition, if you drive through most office parks throughout the United States or visit office skyscrapers throughout the country later in the evening, it will become immediately clear to you that people inside corporations generally do not work as hard as attorneys inside law firms. While there are certainly exceptions to this (investment banking is one of many), corporations in most regions of the United States work fairly predictable hours.

In addition, because much of the deadline-intensive work is farmed out to law firms, even at times when there is a lot of work inside the corporation, you may not be working excessively late.

Many in-house attorneys cherish the predictability of the hours after years of working inside law firms, where their hours were unpredictable. As a general rule, the hours inside a corporation will be much more predictable, and attorneys working in a corporation have more time to spend with their families and enjoy their lives.

If You Go In-House, You Need to Be Aware of the Potential Drawbacks.

Going in-house has a lot of advantages, but for some attorneys, it may not always be the correct career move. When you go in-house, you are making a conscious career decision about the direction of your career that will have ramifications should you choose to do something different with your career at a later time.

The main drawback of going in-house is that in most circumstances, it will be very difficult for you to transition back to a law firm. The reason for this is due to the structure of most law firms. Inside a law firm, as you grow more senior, you will be expected to become increasingly specialized in most circumstances and, more important, to develop a self-sustaining book of business. When you are working inside a law firm, people that you meet in the community are all potential clients and can be cultivated and grown as clients over time. Once you go in-house, you no longer need clients, as you are working directly for the client.

Accordingly, if you go in-house and later decide you want to go back to a law firm, this choice will not be as easy as it sounds. Without a client base, law firms will be skeptical about bringing you on. In some cases, this may not occur if the company you are serving as an in-house counsel in will be referring business to you inside a law firm, but in most cases, it will.

A final reason you may have difficulty transitioning back into a law firm is due to the fact that the skills required of many in-house attorneys are different from the skills needed inside a law firm. As discussed above, a great deal of the work an attorney does in-house may not be directly related to practicing law and may instead be more closely related to supervising outside counsel, for example. Given this distinction, there is a perception (right or wrong) among many law firms that the in-house attorney's legal skills may not be of the same caliber as the law firm attorney's skill after a couple of years in-house.

Set Goals for Your Career in an In-House Environment.

It is well known that people who set goals for themselves typically do much better in their chosen professions than those who do not. If you are choosing to go in-house, then you are making a serious career decision and should have some sense of what your career trajectory will be in the corporation you are joining. If you do not know what your likely career trajectory will be, then you are taking a risk. What will your world look like in five years if you apply yourself in your new position? What has been the career trajectory of others who have joined the company in a similar role? What does the company think you can achieve?

All of these questions are important ones to ask because they will help you to set goals once you join the corporation. Realize that it is extremely important that you have goals going into your new position. Refer to these goals often, and live by them.

Assess Your Current Employment Position.

If you are currently practicing with a law firm, it is important that you assess your current employment position before leaving your present position. No one should ever leave a job simply because the opportunity to do so presents itself. Instead, you need to ensure that you are making a career decision that takes into account all of your long-term interests and accounts for them in the best way possible. Ask yourself tough questions, and do not take anything for granted.


The issues that should be foremost on your mind are (1) what makes you happy and (2) what is best for your career. No article can answer these sorts of questions for you-only you can.


Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss it, you will land among the stars.