Community Perspectives: Has anyone gone in-house with no law firm experience?

In-house legal professionals talk about whether or not they had law firm experience prior to going in-house.

Community Perspectives: Has anyone gone in-house with no law firm experience?

(Author) Attorney

I worked for a few years in the government and I'm working in an editorial position right now. I just applied and interviewed for a position that I think I might get.

Has anyone gone in-house with no law firm experience?

General Counsel Responses:

  • I did. Granted, I am in South Africa, so the rules may be different here in the US. My manager at the time was specifically looking for a recently-qualified lawyer who could be trained within the company so that worked in my favour.

  • I was in a compliance role for about a year, and then I moved to in-house in the finance sector.

  • Me. I took a year off after law school and then went straight in-house (Although I did take a role as business development a couple of years before taking the bar and becoming AGC for the same company).

  • I tried. The company I was with as an engineer while going to law school at night had an opening for my area of law and the tech I was working with. The hiring manager was thumbs up but his boss wasn’t. They said it was easier to train someone on the business than in the legal stuff.

  • I went in-house straight after law school.

  • It is doable.

Counsel Responses:

  • Loads of lawyers at my current company (in the UK) joined right out of university. But there are plenty of similar stories within the company. It’s a big global in-house team of a very large listed mining company.

  • I spent under a year at a small firm doing nothing related to in-house practice, so essentially I did. After that, I just worked my way up from an entry-level in-house position and am now a mid-level at a different company. I got both jobs by applying online.

  • I think the traditional conventions and stratifications of who gets to practice what kind of law are eroding, and for good reason. It’s really not necessary to have 4-7 years of big firm experience to negotiate contracts, understand and advise on privacy laws and obligations, etc. I’m not sure how law firm experience really benefits you in an irreplaceable way unless you specialized in something at the firm and will be doing the same work in-house (M&A, litigation, L&E, etc.) or were part of a top-notch tech transactions group or something.

  • I did! I started in-house right after law school. I have since switched twice now, all in-house jobs with different companies. The last change was 1.5 years ago, and I got about a 50% bump for TC.

  • I did. I was in a compliance role for a year when I got hired as in-house counsel by a tech company.

  • I started straight out of law school with a software company as in-house counsel. I interned for a year before I graduated and passed the bar and then they hired me on as an attorney. I stayed there five years and have had no issue transitioning to other companies as in-house counsel.

  • No law firm experience. I started out in a contracts role, then I switched companies - but still in a contracts position. Then they hired me on as counsel. I have since switched to a different company as corporate counsel.

  • I clerked in-house during law school and got hired there upon graduation. The training was little to none. I had to do a substantive amount on my own after hours to develop my skills, network, etc. It turned out fine, but some days part of me regrets not having seasoned in a firm.

  • Yeah, I joined a large tech company’s legal team as a cyber/privacy attorney with one year of small town firm experience from over 20 years ago. I was a cybersecurity guy for most of that time.

  • Yup, I went straight in-house after law school. I worked at the company before I graduated, so I had some relationships there.

  • I did. I've never worked at a firm.

  • I’ve found that once you break into in-house in any capacity, it’s easier to move companies. My friends who are at law firms are having a more difficult time breaking into in-house. Especially those who litigate.

  • It depends a lot on your area of practice, I imagine. I'm in construction law and I would never hire someone fresh out of law school into my company because they only know how to think, not how to actually be a functional construction lawyer. You need to work for five years so you can know the things you need to know in order to be a benefit to the company.

Attorney and Associate Responses:

  • Yes.

  • I started on the legal admin side (not officially a legal job) at my company and moved into our legal group after a few years. A few people from my old group went into BigLaw after a few years. In our legal group, there is a mix of people who spent no time at a firm to former partners. This is all in the US.

  • I went in-house after less than one year in BigLaw.

  • Technically I did! I converted from contract manager to in-house attorney once I passed the bar. I did work as an office assistant at a litigation firm prior to starting law school and left once I started school.

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