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Going In-House? Get a One-Way Ticket

News today from Corporate Counsel magazine that Robert Graham's work as an in-house lawyer at General Re Corp. could land him in jail for life should be reason enough to think twice before leaving a law firm and going in-house. But even if a move in-house is not likely to send you to the Big House, there may be more subtle career factors that you should consider before making the leap. At his blog Counsel to Counsel, Stephen Seckler points to an article by his colleague Gloria Cannon which "suggests that a ticket out of a law firm is likely to be a one way ticket -- so think long and hard before you attempt the move."

Indeed, in the article, "A View from the Other Side: My Life as an In-House Attorney," Cannon frankly addresses some of the downsides to going in-house. She had spent five years as a BigLaw associate in Los Angeles when she got an offer to join a client. It sounded like a dream job, one she readily accepted. And it was, she emphasizes, "very positive" overall. But her experience on the inside served to debunk various myths held by those on the outside, such as that in-house work promises a cushier lifestyle, more exciting work and comparable pay.

The myth Seckler points to in his blog post is the assumption that if going in-house doesn't work out, one can always retreat to private practice. Not so, says Cannon:

First, law firms will question your commitment to staying at the firm for the long term. After all, you have already indicated that your commitment level to private practice is questionable by leaving in the first place. Firms will seriously question whether you are simply returning to earn some quick money before leaving again for the next available in-house opportunity.

Second, law firms will assume that your lawyering skills have deteriorated while you have been in-house since they will assume that you have relied on outside counsel to a large extent to handle any sophisticated matters. This may not necessarily be the case, but it will be a hard assumption to overcome.

But what about that positive experience Cannon mentioned? Going in-house definitely has its benefits, she writes: no more tracking billable hours, no pressure to market, and being on the receiving end of law firm marketing largess. But before you make the leap, she urges, consider where you'll land. "Once you leave private practice, it may be extremely difficult to go back."

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on March 26, 2008 at 10:20 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

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