7 Comments on "Advice to Law Firm Partners Considering Going In-House"

  1. phillip bryson | February 28, 2014 at 9:27 am |

    I’ve practiced in house for 17 years, including several stints that included purely business roles in addition to my legal responsibilities. Your article really hits the nail on the head. Whenever we have taken the risk and brought in a new attorney from a law firm, it has inevitably taken longer than we expected to break them of the “bad habits” they accumulated while practicing in a law firm environment. Great article.

  2. Anthony Robinson, Esq. | February 28, 2014 at 9:18 pm |

    Thank you for both a well-written and informative piece. Still, it begs the question, “Who is on-point for the internal legal issues that need to be resolved?” If these concerns weigh in so heavily on the hiring teams ‘checklist,’ isn’t that a bit counter-productive when hiring an effective GC good at avoiding excessive and ‘avoidable’ Risk should be priority? I would dare to say, an effective ‘bad guy’ is more desirable than an ineffective ‘good guy’. Having lived in both worlds as a GC and ‘outside counsel’, there are benefits in both relationships (effective ‘bad guys’ have more job satisfaction, though limited tenure is the downside). In the final analysis, the hiring team should be more focused on getting the job done effectively (and efficiently) and look at the work of polishing the rough edges of the ‘bad guy’ as an investment. I would say an effective GC with ‘fit’ challenges is part of the cost of doing business (especially if it keeps the damages from external liabilities at a minimum).

  3. Bob: I fondly recall your quote at a National Association of Search Consultants conference years ago: “There is the right dog for every home, and the right home for every dog.” I have total respect for your GC placement track record and understanding of corporate culture fit. Almost 100% of our in-house placements are folks coming from another law department, and your terrific column here is in-line with that. So the next time a law firm partner won’t take “no” for an answer, I’ll say don’t take just my word for it and send along this article. Hope you are well.

  4. Thanks Phillip and Anthony for your comments. Anthony, I am not suggesting that there is an “either-or” choice here. Of course the company wants the most effective solver of its legal problems. What I am suggesting is that law firm partners have a harder time overcoming the biases sketched in my article. Major, Lindsey & Africa places about 100 GCs annually. There are literally dozens of candidates for each search, and in the case of our “hot” searches (Facebook, Salesforce, Uber, Nordstrom, universities (Stanford, Columbia, Michigan), highly compensated hedge fund/investment banking positions), there are more than dozens. Among those tossing their hat into the ring will be both in-house lawyers and law firm lawyers. The in-house lawyers who make the slate are superbly competent. My article simply addresses the biases that companies harbor against considering law firm partners who, our clients fear, might be unable to adjust to in-house life. Phillip’s comment appears to support this view. Thanks again for your comments.

  5. Having been both in-house and private practice (albeit not at the GC level), I think there is still a lingering perception of inferiority – possibly due to inhouse counsel often being able to “pass the buck” on issues to external lawyers. I personally may have been guilty of this on occasion – if I am paying top dollar for external counsel, do I really need to read every word of this contract myself? (Hint: the answer for someone at my level is “yes”, your law firm’s professional indemnity insurance shouldn’t be treated as a security blanket!).

    However, since moving inhouse, I feel I have grown in leaps and bounds on many of the points you raise – management, “business sense”, budgeting, training and development. Even on the biggest transactions, there is still a tendency for private practitioners to retire to their (admittedly luxurious) offices to work in solitude into the wee hours. Law firms have few “business processes” that need the same careful management attention that companies have. Having spent years in-house, I’m now able to understand how a business should be built and run – experience that has been indispensable for the software company I have moved on to found.

    Not sure you’re right on “cleaning up messes”, though – internal teams are perfectly capable of making complete messes on their own and running to their inhouse lawyer for a fix!

  6. The points made in this article were all correct. Six years ago I went inhouse with a global IT firm. I quickly learned that the “team” (busines and sales) did not want to hear the word “no.” In fact, they seemed willing to pay penalties and give credits rather than amend the contract. As a law firm attorney, you may have the luxury of setting up processes to avoid conflicts and risks later. In my in house role, sometimes I had the luck to set up the processes and sometimes the stuff just hit the fan.

    Just because I held the attorney role in house did not result in deference to my concerns. Instead, I was expected to “solve” the risk or at least have a senior business person sign off on it. It was very important to get those approvals up the chain of command inhouse. Once signoffs were obtained, counsel could breathe a sigh of relief as now it was someone else’s problem.
    On the other hand, it was great to learn about the financial underpinnings of a successful deal, how to develop the proper margins, and how the staff was structured so that forecasts could be met at the end of the contract. I walked into a bigger world in this role.

  7. I am a former regional GC in Asia and now a partner at a large lw firm. I disagree with many of the points made here and feel that it may reflect a bit of a dated view point. According to your comments, much of the reluctance to fill in-house roles with lawyers in private practice seems to be related to an impression that the private practice lawyer’s are likely to take a rigid and absolute approach to their advice and may therefore inhibit the commercial objectives of the hiring company. Frankly, the only way to respnd to thatcomment is, if that is the type of advice they get from their outside counsel and that is what they expect from private practice lawyers, then they are using the WRONG outside counsel. full stop. Reciting the law and its associated prohibitions is not legal advice but it seems, based on reading the above, that many corporate executives and even other in-house counsel expect to receive precisely that type of “advice” from outside counsel. Being a successful outside counsel demands a familiarity with your client’s business, their objectives, and a high degree of commerciality–i.e., savvy advice. Automatons do not keep clients in this day and age.

    Large law firms continuing to consolidate and grow ever larger, business acumen, budgeting skill, management ability, and even business development abilities (perhaps especially business development abilities) are critical to success in a law firm environment. I think the views expressed in this post are perhaps out-of-date and if that is the impression our clients really have of external counsel, then perhaps we need to do more to correct that, to the extent this view is widely held.

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