Just as with most career transitions in any market sector, a large percentage of in-house lawyer moves are accomplished through networking and personal referrals. While in-house hopefuls should actively network, they should not overlook other sources for possible job leads.
General counsel typically hire other in-house lawyers in the same industry whom they know well, or associates at outside firms they work with regularly. They often contact their outside counsel for referrals, presuming that candidates from such a source are pre-qualified in terms of skills and “fit” with their corporate culture. Although seldom eager to lose a valued lawyer, law firms see the opportunity to place one of their own into a client organization as an effective long-term business development strategy. They hope their former colleague will send work to the firm once they settle in-house.
When outside counsel receive such a request for referrals, they often circulate an email within their law firm asking for names of prospects. Outside lawyers contemplating such a move must weigh the risks before volunteering their candidacy as their perceived loyalty to the law firm can be compromised. Sometimes, the referral request goes to the firm's recruitment personnel. If potential candidates have a good relationship with the recruitment personnel, they can request notification when future opportunities arise. In any event, it is a good idea for lawyers who wish to move in-house to seek advice from their mentors before going public with their desire to make the transition.
Another avenue for moving from law firm to in-house practice is via a secondment, where law firm lawyers work “on loan” to a client company for a specified period of time. The lawyer remains technically employed by, and on the payroll of, the law firm, but reports to work at the corporation’s site and works exclusively on the corporation’s work. The corporation and the law firm negotiate the fee arrangement for the lawyer’s work during that period. Such assignments are not only a great way to determine whether the prospective candidate is well-suited to working in-house, but also are useful for building up contacts to help with securing an in-house position in the future.
Other effective networking opportunities include membership in trade organizations popular with corporate counsel, serving on continuing education panels with in-house lawyers, and joining bar activities targeting the in-house community. It is best for in-house hopefuls to avoid activities over-populated by private practitioners hounding corporate counsel attendees for business, however, as such situations are not conducive to productive conversation. Prospective candidates also should continue to network—both in person and online via social media—with peers in the legal community, especially those who already transitioned in-house.
Additional sources of valuable in-house job leads include the placement offices of candidates’ law schools and undergraduate institutions, career listings on the websites of companies of particular interest, LinkedIn job advertisements and, for U.S. candidates, listings on The American Corporate Counsel Association's web site, www.lawjobs.com, and www.goinhouse.com, among others.
Legal search consultants are another valuable source of in-house job search assistance. Note that the majority of in-house searches a legal recruiting firm conducts are on an exclusive basis. In other words, that particular search firm is the only one engaged to fill the position and the company will not accept résumé submissions from any other search firm. Consequently, reaching out to just one recruiter is not sufficient for an exhaustive in-house job search. Candidates must determine which reputable recruiters handle corporate law department searches in their particular market and reach out to those search firms. (This varies from a law firm job hunt, where candidates should work with only one or two recruiters.)