Going In-House For Litigators: Does It Change Your Practice?

Q: I am 34 and a partner in a firm of about 20 (11 partners). The firm's litigation partner is within 5-10 years of retirement and then I will be the senior litigator. These are not small cases (just settled one for 9 figures). Problem: except for the in-court time, I do not enjoy this practice--the constant fights with opposing counsel, deadlines, long hours, fickle clients, etc. Recently, one of my larger clients (Fortune 500) asked me to come in-house to oversee litigation. On its face, it has appeal. While I would lose in court time, I would gain total control of the cases and rid myself of the day-to-day combat. I am concerned about whether my perception of in-house work is accurate. Can you share any stories of litigators who have gone in-house, and how it changed their practice, if at all? Thanks.

A: The stories I have heard about litigators who have gone in-house have been very positive. The hours are better, you have more control over your workload, and there is more acceptance for time spent with family. Most people that I have met have liked the jobs very much. You also get away from some of the nastiness you refer to, which you mention is inherent in litigation.

However, you should also consider speaking with the company's current or former in-house counsel to ensure that the most important incentives for your move are verifiable. You might want to talk to some other lawyers who have gone in-house (you can always consult your law school alumni directory to get some names of grads from your alma mater to talk to) before you make a final decision. Depending on the company there may be significant tensions between the legal department and another division, or the company may be involved in contentious litigation, meaning that constant fighting might still be a large part of your working life. Also, in-house counsel's involvement in cases can vary significantly.

Many corporations choose to "farm out" litigation to outside specialists and in-house counsel is responsible for coordinating with them as well as overseeing more mundane day-to-day legal issues. Depending what you mean by "control of the cases" it is uncertain whether the degree of involvement will match your expectations. It seems as though you have some experience with the company and may already be certain of the practice environment at this company, but it would be wise to verify anything you are simply assuming.

The biggest consideration in your case, obviously, is that you do have an opportunity to possibly be senior litigator at your firm. You will have to weigh exactly how much that opportunity means to you. There may be a significant difference in the compensation offered between the two positions. Also, your position as a senior litigator may provide more authority than an in-house position. In a corporation there are many different departments and, depending on the culture of the company, the legal department may be considered incredibly important or little more than an unfortunately-necessary nuisance. Speaking with attorneys who have worked in-house at this and similar companies can help you determine whether the transition is right for you.