Whether you’re a litigator or a transaction lawyer, the lack of in house experience can put you at a competitive disadvantage when applying for an in house position. Historically, employers have waxed and waned on their level of flexibility regarding this requirement and the pendulum has swung back and forth a few times over the course of 15+ years.
Today, the level of consideration for law firm candidates is mixed. But with all things being equal, an employer will hire the candidate with in house experience. Why? Because law firm and corporate environments are two completely different worlds…maybe even different planets. And the transition from law firm to in house can be very challenging. Some lawyers never acclimate while others make the transition over a longer period of time. Neither of which is ideal for an employer.
Candidates who possess in house experience have already been part of a corporate culture and know how its lawyers operate within it. They have handled the types of legal matters and corporate issues that are part of a corporate environment and have had to work with all the moving parts of a company. As a result, these lawyers don’t have to master a steep learning curve and ramp up tends to be much shorter. They are, in other words: A safer bet.
Law firm lawyers on the other hand, work on a variety of matters for different clients. They are hyper-aware of billable hours and keeping track of their time, which is a structure that dominates their world. There are no internal clients and visibility is limited into the inner workings of the company. Consequently, a law firm lawyer isn’t “under the skin” of their company client. But rather on the outside, looking in.
While more differences exist, these are the basics. And it is clear to see why a corporate employer might favor a candidate with in house experience. So how does a law firm lawyer overcome the lack of in house experience? Below are a few areas that will help persuade an employer:
Use the diversity of your clients and deals/matters as a competitive advantage. You’re in the trenches and working on a plethora of matters for many clients so you are exposed to more variety, different situations, diverse questions – and perhaps managing multiple matters and multiple teams. It is experience you bring to an in house role that will serve as a huge value-add for an employer. This is the strongest card you have to play on the substantive side so your messaging needs to be persuasive.
This is a crucial skill to have as an in house lawyer and a quality that employers prioritize. Emphasize that you possess it, provide some examples, and communicate what it means to you and its influence on how you practice. Also articulate the context in which you would use your business acumen in a corporate setting.
You Get It.
Many employers don’t believe that a law firm lawyer has the slightest idea what’s it’s like to work in a company – hence their apprehension. Let them know that you do: The practice, the values, the collaboration, the service, the culture etc. It can be part of the messaging as to why you want to go in house or as part of addressing the objection directly.
Culture and “fit” are hugely important in a company. So, articulate that you understand the make-up of a corporate culture and discuss how you would approach your role as a corporate citizen and colleague. In addition, life in a company can be more fast-paced. Demonstrate how you can move on a dime and pivot when needed.
As you continue to pursue in house opportunities, you’ll encounter different levels of openness towards law firm candidates. If any of the above suggestions resonate with you, use them to mitigate objections and demonstrate why you will make a great in house attorney. It may take a few tries. But if you persist, you are bound to encounter an employer who likes what you have to offer and will be willing to take a chance.