What In-House Counsel Does
In-house lawyers work inside companies rather than in a traditional corporation. The scope of the job varies greatly depending on the type of company and its size, though it generally involves ensuring the company is following all regulatory guidelines. Larger companies may have entire legal departments segmented by specialty, such as contract, patent, employment, or litigation. Smaller companies tend to have a single attorney who answers directly to the company’s owner.
Who would enjoy a career in In-house Law ?
A career as in-house counsel is generally best-suited for someone who has an interest in business, in addition to law. It’s also an excellent choice for people who prefer a bit more diversity in their days, as the type of work done can vary quite a bit. Oftentimes, being in-house also results in a more stable work schedule, so it can be a better choice for an attorney who wants more work/ life balance.
Who mightn't like the career?
It’s possible to start to feel locked into a position once an attorney moves in-house, simply because there’s generally little opportunity to advance up any type of ladder. Those who work for smaller companies may sometimes feel in over their heads due to all the expectations as well.
Admittance into an accredited university upon completion of entry exams is the first step in entering law. Quality institutions have rigorous requirements and competition for positions is fierce.
A law degree is required in order to practice at any level above the rank of intern or summer associate in the US and Canada. In the UK and Australia, offerings such as the Graduate Diploma of Law (GDL) or the Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice (GDLP), respectively, are available, which allow people with virtually any undergraduate degree to move into law. Each jurisdiction has further requirements, including a bar exam and licensure process.
Those who are aware they’d like to enter into a law career should plan early and apply for a summer associate or internship position while still in school, as the experience will help secure a long-term position after graduation.
- Harvard Law School’s “Questions You Should Be Prepared to Answer”
- 10 tips for a strong legal internship interview
Moving into In-house Law from another career
It can be difficult to transition into law, simply because one must pass legal exams and participate in additional coursework. However, it is fairly easy to move from working in a firm or solo practice to in-house work.
Role: There generally isn’t any type of progression when an attorney chooses to go in-house. An attorney will often maintain the same title during his entire time with the company.
It’s rare for in-house counsel to travel, unless they work for a growing company.
According to data from PayScale, in-house lawyers have salaries of approximately USD $91,074 in the United States, with salaries ranging from $65,889 - $167,458.
In the United Kingdom, salaries average £56,498, with a range of £31,500 - £115,000.
Canadian salaries average CAD$92,829, with a range of CAD$63,009 - $146,929.
Australians can expect an average of AU$88,979, with a range of AU$67,689 - $124,376.
It’s worth noting that the pay increases dramatically based on an attorney’s skill set. For example, pay goes up 32% for someone who specializes in corporate governance, while it rises 30% for someone who specializes in intellectual property law, and 29% for contract management.
Unlike those who practice within firms, in-house counsel does not generally earn much from bonuses or profit sharing. However, it may increase the salary by as much as one-fourth to one-third in some cases.
Why In-House Counsel moves on
It’s often thought that moving into an in-house counsel is the death of one’s career, simply because it can be difficult to move back to a firm after focusing on one company or one area of law for a period of time. Even still, many people choose to do so for the balance it brings, and remain happy in their positions for the span of their career.
Those who move on still typically remain as in-house counsel, but for a different company. However, there are options outside of practicing law that prove to be a smooth transition for someone with legal and business expertise. One of those may be operations, although that role may require financial and numerical skill sets which the in-house counsel will need to build skills around before transitioning into.