In the past, there was no quicker way to become persona non grata in Biglaw than to leave for an in-house position. The rationale behind this excommunication has some merit. Attorneys move in-house for many reasons. These reasons often include:
- Reduced/Steady Hours. The long and chaotic hours of Biglaw are generally tempered at in-house posts. Hours tend to be more normal and in line with general business hours. Working on weekends is also less frequent.
- Single Focus. Instead of representing a myriad of clients on smaller matters, you essentially have one client at an in-house position: the company.
- Business Emphasis. The business emphasis of in-house positions makes for an easier transition from legal practice to corporate executive positions. In fact, many General Counsels are also Vice Presidents—or hold a similar title.
What many attorneys find, however, is that the proverbial grass is, in fact, not greener for several reasons:
- Variable Hours. Hours are not guaranteed to be shorter and in numerous instances, Counsels will often work similar if not greater hours than their Biglaw counterparts.
- Fewer Clients. Since the company is your only client, your position is dependent on the relative prosperity of the company.
- Lower Compensation. Large companies tend to reward their General Counsels with lavish salary packages, but for the dozens to hundreds of attorneys working under them, the pay can be meager compared to Biglaw salaries.
- Less Training. Companies will not invest as many resources in training their counsels as law firms will. For attorneys looking to eventually leap back into Biglaw, they often find themselves unprepared compared to their class year private practice peers.
Traditionally, once an attorney absconds from private practice, their chances of reentering the market are slim. The logic behind this rationale is not simply petty; many firms and partners believe that once an attorney leaves private practice, they have indicated their lack of desire or lack of ability to make it in the law firm life. While this statement is true for some attorneys, most who wish to return are “repentant” prodigal sons/daughters who have tasted in-house life and are redoubled in their commitment to Biglaw. Obviously in-house culture is neither insidious nor undesirable to many attorneys, but those attempting to return express a pronounced preference for private practice.
Demand pressure has made firms rethink their longstanding rancor towards in-house candidates. There are numerous openings in California right now, from L&E attorneys to IP transactional specialists to senior corporate and capital markets attorneys that are proving difficult to fill from the existing pool of talent.
For some clients, this flexibility is just a response to scarcity in the market. They need candidates, and qualified candidates are in short supply. Others however, seem to be genuinely reconsidering their policies. I’ve spoken with firm leaders at two firms that have echoed the aforementioned reasons for advocating on behalf of candidates returning to private practice.
The data backs these assertions as many associates and partner-level attorneys are flowing back into private practice from top companies such as Amazon, Google, Verizon, Bank of America, and more.
Should these firms be successful in re-transplanting in-house attorneys, we could see a domino effect of policy changes as firms scramble to compete for returning attorneys.