In-House Counsel Jobs: A Myth?

Many of our clients express a preference for a position with a corporation, either for-profit or non-profit. Some want "a legal position." Others, like DCM, the second year law student who recently posted a message on the forum, seek work in the business sector "but not as a lawyer." Both should read the following, a comment I posted to the Second Annual Shifting Gears: Career Alternatives for Lawyers Online Seminar sponsored by Counsel Connect adapted from a letter I sent to the Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly in 1996 soon after it published the Massachusetts Corporate Counsel Survey.

I first noted the positive aspect of the survey - allowing lawyers disenchanted with law firm life to realize that there is another setting where their legal training can be used. On the other hand, I pointed out that the lawyer who read the column in a chart they produced entitled Staff Attorney Positions To Be Added over Next Two Years, "learned", by adding the numbers, there would only be 42 jobs. That would certainly be a barrier for lawyers wanting to make a transition to that world. Of the 40,000 corporations in Massachusetts with 15 or more employees, less than 1000 (about 2%) have in-house counsel. (The percentages are likely similar in your region.) While most businesses need legal advice, those who hire do not have the need for a lawyer full time even if they knew what lawyers do.

One could conclude "Since I am a lawyer, there are no positions for me." The key to success is recognizing that while "they" may not hire a "lawyer", "they" are likely to hire "you". Think back to when you graduated from college. Could you have found, and didn't some of your classmates take, positions in a wide range of fields? Could going to law school (and practicing) have retarded you so that now you can no longer do so? My clients' experiences convince me that while lawyers as a group have a negative image, individual lawyers are generally respected for their competence. The issue then is not whether you can make such a transition. You are qualified for many positions in many fields. The task is to find the most responsible role which combines your goals, values, skills and interests.

Therefore, if you want to work for a for-profit (or a non-profit) corporation - DON'T BOTHER LOOKING FOR IN-HOUSE COUNSEL POSITIONS. If you limit yourself in this way, you are probably overlooking at least 98% of the market for your services.

After deciding to work for a corporation or organization, choose an industry, field or cause. Only after you analyze the organizational structure of a typical entity in that world can you draft a resume targeted to a "hybrid" position, one that combines a number of your qualifications including your legal skills. Realize that as a lawyer you are a talented, educated, skilled and experienced "person" and that organizations in all fields and industries need you. Recognize that your writing is needed in corporate communications, marketing or public relations; your advocacy is needed in public affairs, lobbying and community relations; your computer, teaching, administrative, financial, management, training, counseling and supervisory skills may all be needed as may be your ability to speak Spanish and ski. Once you know how they work, you can intelligently inform employers about the diverse number of situations in which your legal knowledge and experience will be an invaluable asset.

Now get out there and promote yourself to employers in the field you have chosen. DON'T LOOK FOR ADS. The openings are not advertised. There are recent surveys which found that a high number of professionals convince corporations to create positions to fit their experience and skills. Work hard and you will find a satisfying position as have thousands of lawyers before you and all you have to do is recognize that you are not just a lawyer...but a person.