Community Perspectives: Do you have to have experience in BigLaw in order to get a chance at an in-house position?

Our in-house professional community discuss their views on how legal departments weigh your BigLaw experience.

Community Perspectives: Do you have to have experience in BigLaw in order to get a chance at an in-house position?

(Author) Associate

Do you have to have a BigLaw stamp to get a chance at an in-house position?

Director and General Counsel Responses:

  • No, I never worked a day in BigLaw and have been in-house for over a decade.
  • 100% no. - I worked in a very small firm (there were four attorneys) for a year before I landed my first in-house gig. The proof is in the pudding (which is your work ethic), and not where you come from. Remember that.
  • Nope, I never worked in BigLaw and am working in-house at an F300 for over a decade now.
  • I got lucky because of my work experience, but yes, most of the hires are former BigLaw.
  • Not at all.

In-House and Corporate Counsel Responses:

  • The tech company I work for doesn’t hire outside of the BigLaw refugee pool.
  • We have lots of people coming from diverse backgrounds, definitely not all BigLaw.
  • No, I’ve been in BigTech and we had plenty of legal counsel and legal directors who started out in contract management/contract negotiation (myself included) or compliance. Now, if you want to be senior leadership (e.g. Deputy General Counsel, Division Counsel, GC etc.) there might be more of an insistence on BigLaw.
  • Of course not. There are all kinds of companies. Some really want those BigLaw credentials, and some really don’t care. Are you going to become the GC of Citibank if you never worked in BigLaw? Probably not. Can you become the GC of some small company that pays $100,000-200,000? Sure. And of course there are exceptions, not uncommon for ex-BigLaw folks to take in-house jobs that pay less than first year BigLaw. And non-BigLaw folks occasionally get hired at bigger companies that pay quite well.
  • No.
  • Absolutely not. Relevant, high quality experience is the most important.
  • Not in my case. I have never worked in a law firm and have been in-house since the day I passed the bar (actually for a year before when I was interning while in law school).
  • No. Fourth tier law grad and now Senior Counsel for a leading manufacturing company. All my in-house bosses didn’t care where I went to school or if I had BigLaw experience. I’d argue BigLaw probably doesn’t help for an in-house generalist as you’ve likely had a lot of specialization.
  • No. I've been in-house ever since I graduated law school (for a few years already). I'm also hiring and care very little about BigLaw experience in applicants.
  • Absolutely not. If the manager has experience in BigLaw, they will likely push for it at the hiring meeting. And, as unfortunate as that may sound, the manager generally doesn’t have experience in BigLaw, so it’s not as much of an issue as it may appear to be.
  • In-house is not necessarily the escape from law firm crappiness it is assumed to be. You're basically trading in working for many clients to working for one. Better screen them really well, and get a sense of what you are signing up for before making the leap.

Attorney and Associate Responses:

  • These days, it depends on your practice area, how many years of practice you have, and in which company you’re trying to go in-house. For example, BigTech is an uphill battle if you aren’t ex-BigLaw or ex-FedGov.
  • I’m at a BigTech company, and the legal team has a diverse background. Many people here have never practiced at a BigLaw firm.
  • If you are looking for a Corporate and Securities Counsel position, likely yes. If it’s Commercial or Privacy Counsel, likely no.
  • Definitely not.
  • I never went into BigLaw and I’m at a F15: I was recently promoted, and advancement is generally constrained in-house while you wait for people ahead of you to leave so you can move up, but it hasn’t been an issue for me so far.
  • No. - I had a compliance stamp, then I went in-house. Now, I’m leaving in-house to go to BigLaw. I graduated in 2018 and accepted an offer as a second year. I will say my practice area is super niche; I do regulatory work in international trade. In-house, I was an acting GC (the former GC left and I ended up getting all the responsibilities). I had an outside counsel budget and great mentors. Even got recruited by two of the firms I worked for. I was proud of my work as a GC for over a year until I left for BigLaw. Everything is about being intuitive and also utilizing your resources. We brought in $300M in revenue. Parent was $3B in revenue with over 20 subsidiaries in various countries. It was only me for a year. Before I left we finally got to two people in the department!


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

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