Business and transactional attorneys often cross-over from in-house counsel to private law firms and vice versa. Both types of legal practice have their attributes and commonalities; however, the transition can still be challenging. Yes, you may be practicing in the same general areas of law, but the working environments, the decision-making processes, and your relationships with clients are all very different. When considering whether or not working in-house or in a private firm is right for you, there are various aspects to consider.
In an in-house setting often, the Sales organization is king. Sales brings in the revenue, which keeps the lights on and the employees paid. Therefore, there is a great deal of pressure on in-house counsel to get deals closed, and to do so quickly. It is not uncommon to find that as a rule of thumb in some in-house departments contracts go out 80% correct but 100% on time. In a private law firm it is different. When drafting contracts, you are generally dealing with the leaders and decision makers for your clients’ businesses, who although also sales-focused, are generally looking at the bigger picture around the deal and want a comprehensive quality contract that will protect them and their business. In that regard, the 80% accurate in-house guideline does not fly. In a private practice, you have more flexibility to set delivery dates for your work product that allow you the time to do a thorough and detailed job. As a private law firm attorney, precision and accuracy rule the day.
Another major difference is that as in-house counsel, you are generally viewed by your company as an expense. As such, the pressure is ever-present to ensure your company’s leadership sees and understands the value you bring to the company. Often times this can put you at odds with your company’s Sales team, especially when negotiating major contracts. In these situations, you will often find yourself negotiating not only with the client, but with your Sales team as well, who incidentally due to the nature of their position, likely have a conflict of interest when it comes to closing a deal. This can be a challenge because as in-house counsel your one and only client is the company itself and you must juggle a number of competing influences, both internal and external, to get deals closed while keeping the company’s best interests in mind. In contrast, as a private law firm attorney, you are a revenue generator and you have more flexibility to select those clients with whom you wish to work, and as noted above, you are generally working with the high-level decision makers of your clients. Along those lines, you do not feel the same level of pressure to merely hustle contracts out the door to try and meet sales quotas and revenue projections. You have the ability to take your time, work closely with your clients, and get contracts documented accurately.
Finally, one noteworthy point is that instead of having one major client as in-house counsel does, a private law firm attorney may have anywhere from 50 to 150 different clients, ranging across several different industries and with various legal needs of differing complexity. Both have their challenges. For in-house attorneys, you have to know your client, its products and its personnel from top to bottom and you have to know how to maneuver through the typical corporate politics, chains of command and policies. For private law firm attorneys, much like your in-house colleagues, you have to know as much about each of your clients as possible, but you have to do it across dozens of different clients, and you have to stay current on each of them to the fullest extent possible. This can also be a big challenge for a private law firm attorney when trying to prioritize competing client needs and meeting expectations for accuracy and speed.
Despite there being some significant differences between in-house and private law firm work, there are some commonalities. In both roles, you will find yourself acting as a general problem solver. As in-house counsel, you are the go-to person for decision making on virtually any question that people within the company either do not know the answer to, or frankly, do not want to be accountable for answering. Moreover, on any given day, there is no telling what questions may come your way. The same is true for private law firm attorneys. With dozens of clients, all having different legal needs, issues and questions, you have to be prepared to continually shift gears and move from one issue to the next throughout your day to swiftly and accurately resolve critical matters for your clients. Additionally, as with in-house counsel, private law firm attorneys also have no way of knowing what matters they will face on any given day.
In summary, the legal profession for transactional attorneys is especially unique given the ability to work either in-house or for a private law firm. Both paths provide excellent and exciting opportunities for making critical impacts on your clients and their overall success. Moreover, both paths have their challenges and attributes which should be taken into consideration before you chart your course for in-house or private law firm work.
This Blog was written by Hunter Business Law, Attorney Elisa Keller. View her profile HERE.
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