Community Perspectives: How do in-house positions compare to law firm positions in work/life balance?

Our in-house professional community discuss their experiences with work/life balance in in-house and law firm positions.

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Community Perspectives: How do in-house positions compare to law firm positions in work/life balance?

(Author) an Associate

As compared to law firm life (transactional), is in-house actually a better fit for work/life balance? I’ve worked with in-house counsel who work 70+ hour weeks on deals, but I’m curious as people seem to generally say the balance is better.

General Counsel Responses:

  • I work long hours on occasion, but generally I can expect to work between 9-5:30.

Counsel Responses:

  • I work 8-4:30 most days. In my experience, the work/life balance is great.
  • I work 8-6 most days, and we have over 100 attorneys. The work is very bland. It's definitely industry-driven, but you don’t see the same reward for your work like you do at a firm. Additionally, there’s hardly any upward movement.
  • I work crazy hours in-house, but the decision is mine. My employer would be perfectly fine if I worked standard hours. I don't think you get that at a firm as often.
  • I went from a Fortune 500 company to a start-up. While the hours can be long (I average 55 hours per week), there is greater flexibility and the deadlines are typically less stringent than litigation.
  • It depends on where you work and what kind of law. I worked in-house for an insurance company for years. I had 70 litigation cases all by myself. My paralegal lived in a completely different time zone, and only drafted answers and discovery. I did everything else. I refused to put in long hours, because the pay was crap. I could easily work 75+ hours per week with my workload. I was never home as I’d have to drive all over the state of Florida for depositions and mediations. I would have about three or four depositions and two mediations a week. Also, I dated a patent attorney, and he worked in-house and would have calls at 2am because the clients were in China. At my current job I’m in-house at a State University so the hours are much better for work/life. It’s mainly a 9-5.
  • It's so much better than at a firm for me. Sometimes it gets crazy busy, but the only real times I work outside of regular hours (super early or really late) is when I have a call with foreign counsel on the other side of the world.
  • I work a lot of 50-55 hour weeks but I love what I’m doing in-house.

Associate and Attorney Responses: 

  • I moved in-house just before the pandemic, so my experience is limited. My understanding and impression is that there are busy stretches as you approach closings and at other times as well, but that outside of those stretches, working weekends is unusual and working beyond the dinner hour isn’t all that frequent. Your deals may be more spaced out (depending on your role) than when handling multiple clients as outside counsel, but you’ll also probably have more administrative/Human Resources obligations (just as a manager of others, not in a legal capacity). The stress isn’t just lower, it’s of a different qualitative nature. The things that stress me now are also the things I thrive on (doing the deals themselves), compared to the things that stressed me most as a partner at my firm; competition for my existing client relationships whether originated or managed by me, unreasonably demanding clients, fee pressure, business development pressure. These were truly emotionally exhausting at times.
  • I’ve been in-house for a few months now. My observation so far is that I actually am in control of my work/life balance. If I want to work past the 8:30-5:30 time frame, that’s up to me. I will glance at emails that come in the evening, but I do not respond, nor do I have to respond (unless it is absolutely urgent). I’m still learning and adjusting to that change, but it’s been really nice for my mental health. I can finally “log off” and live my life.
  • This entirely depends on where you work. I work 50-55 hours most weeks. Some weeks I’m closer to 45, while others I’m closer to 60. It’s significantly less stress, and the people (both lawyers and business clients) are significantly more reasonable. It's all about the company and the size of their legal team.
  • My boss gaslights, leaves me off email chains on projects he wants me to be in charge of, has insomnia and works until 3am all the time. He won't let us take vacation, is deceptive in front of others, likes to make plans about planning the plan but never gets stuff done and then circles back later wondering why nothing has been done. He constantly has sidebars with outside counsel and acts like he might one day give me the privilege of talking with them (I managed outside counsel before he got here). I've never had issues with a boss like him.
  • I work in late stage tech. My boss is a nightmare. My job was awesome until he came.

In-house? Join the conversation on Fishbowl (anonymous).