What Law Firm Attorneys Should Consider Before Moving In-House


Many law firm attorneys reach a point in their career where they wonder whether to switch to an in-house role. They might be seeking better work-life balance, a broader range of subject matter in their work, or a different work environment altogether.

The day-to-day operations of a law firm attorney versus an in-house attorney vary in many regards, so it’s important to highlight the biggest considerations an attorney should make when deciding whether to change to an in-house role.

Specialist vs. Generalist

Consider whether you enjoy being a specialist versus a generalist when deciding between a law firm or in-house counsel role.

Working at a law firm typically entails specialization in one area of legal practice. This enables lawyers to become subject matter experts in their chosen field and gain expertise to tackle complex, intricate, and novel legal questions with precision and depth.

Although many in-house opportunities still have a focus, in-house attorneys tend to deal with a broader range of legal matters. This generalist approach allows in-house attorneys to work cross-functionally within their organization and address legal issues from a more holistic and practical perspective.

Advancement Opportunities

Think about where you want your career to go and where your ambitions lie. If you’re set on becoming a partner, a law firm is a great place to stay. However, if you’re open to more options with your advancement, consider working in-house.

Partnership often is the only path to advancement at law firms. This traditional hierarchy requires lawyers to demonstrate their expertise, client base, and contributions to the firm over time to earn a partnership position, when they become co-owners and share in the firm’s profits and decision-making.

Working in-house can provide multiple advancement opportunities, as it often involves a broader range of responsibilities and exposure to various aspects of the company’s operations. In-house counsel can advance within their legal department by taking on more substantial roles while also having the potential to transition into non-legal roles within the company.

Work-Life Balance

Law firm attorneys often lack work-life balance. This usually occurs because they have less control over their schedules due to time billing requirements. Billing time measures productivity and compensation based on the hours billed to clients, which can result in long, unpredictable work hours and limited flexibility.

In-house attorneys generally don’t bill their time like their law firm counterparts. Instead, their productivity is measured by their ability to accomplish objectives and contribute to the organization’s success. In-house attorneys usually have more autonomy and flexibility to plan and manage their work, allowing them to better balance their professional and personal lives compared with those at a law firm.

Flexibility and work-life balance vary depending on the organization. Before accepting an opportunity, assess the culture of the specific organization to see how work-life balance is prioritized. Your choice should depend on your career goals and work style.


It’s important to understand your motivations when deciding to make a transition. A law firm can offer more stability and higher pay, whereas working in-house comes with more variables in terms of compensation.

Working at a large law firm often involves a lockstep compensation system, which increases pay transparency and reduces the need for extensive salary negotiations. Associates’ salaries progress in predefined, incremental steps based on seniority and years of experience, making it clear and predictable.

Law firm associates typically demand a higher premium because they bill their time to clients at hourly rates, directly contributing to the firm’s income. Law firms can pay associates higher salaries they drive revenue.

In-house counsel pay varies by experience and employer and isn’t lockstep. Companies evaluate compensation based on several factors, including experience level, previous law firm and in-house training, and company metrics.

Also, in-house lawyers are a cost center for a company unlike law firms, which directly generate revenue through billable hours. As such, in-house counsel typically make less in salary compared with law firm associates. Over time, compensation can increase and be complemented by other benefits such as 401(k) match, equity grants, and incentive bonuses.

As a cost center, the law department is also at risk of being downsized when company performance is low. In contrast, law firm associates have more stability due to being the main revenue driver.

No Wrong Answer

When deciding whether to make the switch to in-house, weigh these four major factors and research any smaller scale differences. Choosing to work at a firm or in-house depends on your unique preferences and long-term goals.

If you’re unsure whether to stay put or make the move, consider speaking with a seasoned recruiter, your network, and practicing in-house attorneys on the major differences they’ve seen.

Making the leap is up to what you want out of your career and life. There’s no right or wrong answer, as both law firm and in-house life offer rewarding and challenging careers.


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