We have all seen that in-house job description that requires, you guessed it, prior in-house experience. With so many lawyers wanting to go in-house, we often hear from frustrated attorneys asking us how they can get that first in-house job, since they don’t already have in-house experience. While it can be difficult, it is not an impossible task. There will always be some companies that hire lawyers directly from law firms. Usually, these are companies with larger legal groups that are essentially run like captive law firms. These departments are typically staffed with many attorneys, often highly specialized, and have a clear structure and hierarchy. These types of companies are hiring attorneys to fill very specific roles. Joining a larger in-house department can be a great route for a first-time in-house lawyer to take.
There is, of course, another group of companies that much prefers to hire candidates that already have in-house experience. However, even these companies have (and will again) ended up hiring lawyers directly from law firms. Here are some tips for getting in the door:
- Seek out a secondment at your law firm. Companies often ask their preferred law firms to “borrow” or second an attorney for a period of 6 months or a year. A secondment can be great opportunity to test the waters and see what in-house work is like without making a permanent commitment. Not only will you get to experience in-house life, but you will also add corporate experience to your resume.
- Focus on industry experience. For example, if you are interviewing for an in-house role with a technology company and happen to have represented many technology companies, you should add this to your resume and make sure to use it as a talking point.
- Broaden your resume. Take time to think about all of the day-to-day work you do for your clients. If you are a real estate lawyer, think about the counseling and related agreement work you assist with. Do you attend board meetings? Do you strategize with the executive team? This information adds value to your resume.
- Did you work before going to law school? Highlight this experience. It shows that you have worked in a corporate setting and understand corporate culture.
- Think about going in-house with one of your clients. Your clients already know you and like your work. You have institutional knowledge about these companies from representing them. While you need to be careful in how you approach such a move, it can often be an easier transition and your law firm is likely to be quite happy about having you there to maintain the relationship.
The circular requirement of needing in-house experience in order to get in-house can be tricky, but there are steps you can take to set yourself up for success. And remember, the first move in-house is the hardest!