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For Managing Partners a Move in House Isnt Always Easy

Stephanie Forshee and Ben Seal LAW.COM

Leading a law firm is hard work—long hours, office politics, plus the challenge of keeping both clients and fellow partners happy. For those top firm lawyers tiring of the grind and looking for a second wind in their legal careers, could becoming a general counsel be a good next step?

It’s a transition that a handful of high-profile attorneys have made in recent years, bringing their experience with how outside counsel operate to organizations that prove much more budget-focused and hierarchical than the partnerships they left.

Among those making the move, Gregory Jordan left Reed Smith to lead legal at PNC Bank, Marianne Short went from managing partner at Dorsey & Whitney to UnitedHealth, Susan Levy left Jenner & Block for Northern Trust Corp., and C. Allen Parker went from Cravath, Swaine & Moore to Wells Fargo.

Though the number of MPs turned GCs might not add up to a major hiring trend, a lot can be learned from their experiences.

For those individuals, time spent as managing partner can lead to some significant advantages once they cross into the legal department, even though in-house life differs in some very real ways.

A New Trend?

Recruiters in the legal profession seem unconvinced that the shift from managing partner to general counsel is a trend that has taken off dramatically or will in the future, but they don’t deny the skill sets can match up well for the right candidates.

In Deborah Ben-Canaan’s experience with the in-house practice group at Major, Lindsey & Africa, “law firm partners often want to go in-house, but it’s a challenge because they are less likely to have the practical business experience, leadership and management skills or experience with a board and C-suite environment that companies are looking for in a general counsel.”

She adds, “Managing partners have a much easier time because they are familiar with strategic planning, hiring and firing, and budgetary responsibility. In some cases, companies specifically seek out law firm candidates, although it is rare. We don’t see a major trend in managing partners moving to the GC role, but a managing partner is a much easier sell than a law firm partner who lacks management experience.”

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