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Community Perspectives: What do you wish you knew when first going (or deciding to go) in-house from a firm?

In-house legal professionals discuss what they wish they'd known prior to making the move to in-house.

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Community Perspectives: What do you wish you knew when first going (or deciding to go) in-house from a firm?
  • Learn how to do things 80% right and 100% fast. Sometimes 70% right.
  • Business colleagues (non-lawyers) will get mad at you for telling them the law that they asked you about.
  • 1. Get comfortable with making decisions based on incomplete information. 2. Some in-house departments have a small legal budget so you need to be resourceful with what you can find online -- firm advisories, etc. 3. Be comfortable with doing more administrative or paralegal level tasks. Your work will vary from handling some complex legal item to reviewing an invoice from a vendor that has some legal jargon at the bottom. 4. Be curious. Talk to the business departments to get a better understanding of it. When we were back in the office, I spent as much time on other department floors as I did on the floor with the legal department. Knowing more about the business makes you a much better lawyer.
  • Even the most progressive companies have layers of bureaucracy, and you may find that having direct lines of communication with some people is difficult at first. It can be frustrating to play the game but over time you’ll figure out efficient ways to get information you need.
  • Prioritizing what’s important is key and not everything can be done at 100% (and it’ll still be OK).

Attorney and Associate Responses: 

  • You will have to be very proactive in setting boundaries. The vast majority of the time, you simply don’t have the time or capacity to dig into nitty gritty issues like you would have as outside counsel. You can’t always proof read a document 4x to make sure there are no typos. Sometimes, a once over is all you get. If you treat your work like you did as outside counsel, you will never sleep. You have to learn what the expectations of the job are, and then stick to those. Your business partners want fast, easy-to-understand answers, not a beautifully-drafted memo outlining all the possible outcomes/risks.
  • Don’t let perfection get in the way of getting something done.
  • That you just have to figure stuff out. Your practice will be way broader. People ask you things on the spot. You may or may not have a budget for outside counsel. You learn to be resourceful, lean on your network, and find a way.

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