Thursday, June 19, 2008

Factoid: Profile of an In-House Attorney

A colleague in Minnesota recently dug up these interesting facts from a few years ago about in-house attorneys. Those who aspire to in-house practice but think small firm practice is not what you want to do should take particular note.

21% of in-house counsel are sole practitioners (they are the sole attorney in their office).

Departments of two to five attorneys comprise about 38% of the in-house population.

Approximately 85% of in-house lawyers practice in departments of fewer than 20 lawyers.

In other words, the skills you learn in small firm practice are going to be valuable to you as an in-house attorney.

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Professor Jonathan Ezor of Touro Law Center posted a comment to this blog entry that deserves to be shared here. Thanks, Professor Ezor!


ProfJonathan said...

Having been the sole in-house attorney at three different companies, I concur that large firm experience isn't necessary. Some things that are necessary, though, are:

1) A willingness to say "yes" whenever possible instead of the automatic cautious "no" typical of outside counsel. This was echoed by the general counsel of CA the other afternoon at a lunch talk at Touro; if the in-house counsel won't offer workable solutions, he or she will be ignored or at least not seen as part of the team. Also, as with parenting, saving "no" for the critical times makes it more effective.

2) An understanding of the operations of the company. Being able to match risk assessment to business goals is key to in-house success.

3) A clear delineation between who the client is (namely, the company) and the businesspeople to whom you report. There are situations where what is in the best interest of the company is different from what the executive wants to do. An attorney who confuses those can end up in trouble or even in jail (see, e.g., Enron).

You should not, though, assume that in-house positions are necessarily more stable than those in a law firm. An in-house position is to some degree like investing your entire portfolio in a single stock--you're betting on the strength of one client rather than many. In-house attorneys, as much as they save their employers huge amounts of money, are ultimately overhead (costs) rather than profit centers, and when companies try to cut overhead in the short term, the lawyer(s) may be included in the cuts.

I'd be happy to share my experiences with anyone who is curious about the differences between in-house and law firm positions. {Prof. Jonathan Ezor}

1 comment:

ProfJonathan said...

Having been the sole in-house attorney at three different companies, I concur that large firm experience isn't necessary. Some things that are necessary, though, are:

1) A willingness to say "yes" whenever possible instead of the automatic cautious "no" typical of outside counsel. This was echoed by the general counsel of CA the other afternoon at a lunch talk at Touro; if the in-house counsel won't offer workable solutions, he or she will be ignored or at least not seen as part of the team. Also, as with parenting, saving "no" for the critical times makes it more effective.

2) An understanding of the operations of the company. Being able to match risk assessment to business goals is key to in-house success.

3) A clear delineation between who the client is (namely, the company) and the businesspeople to whom you report. There are situations where what is in the best interest of the company is different from what the executive wants to do. An attorney who confuses those can end up in trouble or even in jail (see, e.g., Enron).

You should not, though, assume that in-house positions are necessarily more stable than those in a law firm. An in-house position is to some degree like investing your entire portfolio in a single stock--you're betting on the strength of one client rather than many. In-house attorneys, as much as they save their employers huge amounts of money, are ultimately overhead (costs) rather than profit centers, and when companies try to cut overhead in the short term, the lawyer(s) may be included in the cuts.

I'd be happy to share my experiences with anyone who is curious about the differences between in-house and law firm positions. {Prof. Jonathan Ezor}