Community Perspectives: Is it feasible to go from BigLaw into in-house if I have less than 5 years of experience?

Our anonymous In-house Fishbowl community members recently discussed the move when transitioning from BigLaw to in-house position without having been in their position for at least five years. Here is a list of the responses from others in the community.

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Community Perspectives: Is it feasible to go from BigLaw into in-house if I have less than 5 years of experience?

Senior Counsel Responses

  • I was actually just thinking about this last night. I'm in-house and have done lots of hiring the past few years, and I think the sweet spot is 4-5 years into your position. By then you've got skills that are valuable to me but you're still young enough in your career to be flexible about learning new things, doing things in new ways, and thinking about things differently.

In-house Counsel Responses

  • There was also a post on here a few weeks back about the right year to go in house (someone mentioned that waiting to be a Senior Associate or a Nonequity Partner at a firm may hurt because you have too much invested in firm life - taken with a grain of salt, obviously). I moved as a fourth year in part because I saw no future at my firm, or really any firm. I knew Partner was never my goal, and I now feel like my whole future has opened up. I’m in the healthcare industry at a large company.

Counsel Responses

  • I think the path to promotion is pretty similar if you exit at year 2 versus year 5 (this is a very common path). What’s different is going to be your ability to demand or leverage good pay initially, which can meaningfully impact your compensation throughout your tenure at that company.
  • Going in-house early means you’ll probably start at a lower pay and may or may not ever reach highest pay. Someone with a lot of BigLaw experience may get hired to be your boss even if they have less years of experience. Sometimes companies just really want that BigLaw experience (and keep in mind if you’ve been working 40 hours/week for 5 years vs their 80 hours/week for 5 years, they have twice the experience). They may want to tell their investors “This person used to be a partner at V10 firm; they’re the real deal”. They may want someone who has experience representing every major player in the field, rather than just their own company, because their company wants to grow and be a competitor to those other companies.
  • With anything, there's always a trade-off. There’s certain “dead end” in-house jobs you may want to avoid (e.g., an NDA processing robot). But if your job is client-facing, you can keep learning and growing and get promoted just like anyone in any other job (legal or otherwise). Is it a bit harder than if you stuck it out in BigLaw longer? It depends. If you’re doing a good job and impressing your business and legal colleagues, you will progress in your career.

Associates and Attorney Responses:

  • No, I left for in-house as a 3rd year and have a clear path to promotion at my current company, at least up 2 more levels. After that, jumping to another in-house role seems to be a common way to climb the ladder. It definitely depends on the structure and size of the legal department, though.
  • Take some time to figure out what career advancement means to you, because this will determine if it's feasible for you.
  • Not in my experience. I’d say less than 2 generally (but not always) is a poor decision, but there are plenty of good spots that start opening up once you’re a 3rd year or so. The position you leave is more important than the time you leave.
  • I went in-house as a 7th year and I wish I had left earlier. We also hire people with 4-5 years of firm experience the most when we are hiring straight out of a firm for the reasons you mentioned.