Working for a Law Firm vs. In-House; The Attorney’s Biggest Dilemma

You’ve made good grades in college, scored high marks on the LSATs, gotten your JD from a top tier law school, and landed a job at the law firm of Big, Bigger & Best.  Congratulations!

Two or three years later – after billing more hours than you knew there were in a year –and putting up with a nail chewing partner who seems intent on making your life a living hell – you’re staring glassy-eyed out the window wondering how to get off this merry-go-round.

You think about some of the attorneys who work as corporate counsel to the firm’s clients.  It seems like those guys are always taking vacations and leaving early and playing golf – they’re actually enjoying their lives.  If only you could get an in-house job and tell Big, Bigger & Best to shove it….

Do you ever feel that way?  It’s probably crossed your mind.  However, have you really given serious thought to what the differences really are between a corporate counsel position and an associate or partner at a law firm?

Consider these “pros” for an in-house position –

  • Work less hours – it’s no secret that in-house jobs don’t on average require the time commitment of a law firm.
  • There is only one client to report to.
  • No billable hour requirement.
  • Opportunity to be an integral part of the organization’s internal strategizing.
  • Integral part of transaction(s) as they take place – from start to finish.
  • Have a better and more intimate understanding of client’s operations.
  • Part of the organization’s team rather than a “hired gun.”

Sounds pretty promising, right?  But these must be balanced against the following “cons” –

  • Lower salary – in addition, raises are discretionary and bonuses are usually lower than at law firms.
  • Fewer in-house opportunities – organizations realize this and it directly influences all the economic factors.
  • Lack of work diversity – working for one client, doing the same type of work – can lead to dissatisfaction.
  • As in-house counsel, you’re no longer a “profit center”, you’re viewed as a “cost center.”
  • Until recently, law firms could boast of greater job security. While the economic upheaval has called this into question, overall, due to having many clients as opposed to a single client, law firms may still offer greater job security.
  • Less autonomy in-house – making schedules, engaging in marketing and client/business developing, incurring expenses, etc. – than in a law firm.
  • Career track is not as obvious or as much in the attorney’s control, i.e., opportunities for advancement in-house vs. knowing law firm partnership track and requirements to meet.
  • There are far more partners at law firm than there are ACG or GC.
  • These days some corporations are using their in-house counsel as if they were outside counsel – you’ll be doing the same work as outside counsel, for less money and the same hours and requirements as if you were in private practice.

An In-house counsel position may in your future, but it’s important to realize that the more experience an attorney has before they make the switch from a law firm, the better their career chances are going to be.  The sweet spot is the 5-7th year experience mark, or more – depending on your career goals.  If you attempt to jump in the pool too early – even if you do land a job, you may find you’re still a junior attorney long after you get your first gray hair.

Think about it!

Diane Rifkin is an attorney and CEO of Rifkin Consulting, a premiere California attorney recruiting firm. The Rifkin difference is an international network with hands on boutique style personal attention.  Learn more at

By |2018-09-12T21:56:14-07:00September 12th, 2018|Categories: Rifkin Consulting|0 Comments