How Working In-house Differs From Private Practice

Source: In-house Access

The transition in-house offers surprising differences that you may not always be prepared for after years of working in private practice. In the beginning, your job as a new in-house counsel is to learn the business - from the products and terminology to how things work and who to consult with on issues. Amidst all you are learning, you should also be aware of several differences.

#1: Your area of expertise doesn't matter.

When in-house, you get to see all of the legal problems and also have to consider the business implications. While you're often dealing with legal issues, sometimes the issue is not purely legal, but has legal implications or is not a specialized area for you. You must be nimble and able to figure things out. Never be afraid to say, "I don't know" or "I need outside help."

#2: You have a better sense of time tables.

When an issue arises, you will more often than not have a deadline - whether self-imposed or definitive - so you're aware from the start about how much time you have to solve an issue. The business might say, "We need an answer ASAP." And in such cases, a quick and dirty email with bullet points will be acceptable, instead of a long, detailed memo.

#3: Never underestimate the importance of relationship-building.

Each in-house department and company has its own culture where legal is often viewed as a strategic partner. Many times, you will be deferred to for the final blessing. It is important that you build those relationships and establish yourself as a respected expert who can strike a balance in your role.

#4: You get to see an issue through completion.

Often times in private practice, you only get to see a part of the deal and then it is sent back to the company. You may not see the end result of your work.

#5: You are expected to assist the company with achieving its business goals.

In private practice, you get a sense of this, but don't have a full view. You address thorny legal issues, not the added business implications of whatever the legal issue entails. For example, while working in-house, you need to consider how an investigation will impact the business and how to conduct it with minimal disruption. Often times, in private practice, the client instructs the legal team on how to deal with these issues.

To be successful from the start, we suggest you:

•Familiarize yourself with the world you are working in. Take CLEs. Introduce yourself to people and learn about their roles.

•Gain a broad sense of the different issues facing the business. Ask a lot of questions. Learn the internal terminology. In order to provide the appropriate counsel, you must know the company's lingo.

•Figure out the structure of the legal team and each person's area of expertise. Set up phone calls and in-person meetings.


Read the full-feature article on In-house Access.

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Sharla TollerSharla Toller is a Managing Director in the In-House Practice Group of Major, Lindsey & Africa's Washington, D.C., office. She specializes in placing attorneys at all levels with corporate legal departments nationwide, with a focus on the higher education sector and in diversity recruiting.

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