Market Report: The Realities Of Going In-House As A Litigator

Litigators with a specialized skillset fare better in the in-house market.  One of the impressive traits of general litigators is their ability to become expert in various subject matters in a short period of time.  Quite frankly, their clients and the court demand that skill, and it is often what energizes litigators and keeps their daily job interesting and varied.  Unfortunately, the in-house market does not value that skill as highly.  Although companies often recognize and respect that skill in attorneys, this is a tough in-house market for general litigators.  Litigators with specialized areas of expertise are having better success with securing in-house roles.  For example, we have placed litigators with regulatory expertise in the life sciences, food and chemical industries.  Further, litigators that have focused on employment law actions have acquired a specialized skillset, and can therefore transition that skill in-house more readily than a general litigator.  If you are a litigator with a niche in real estate cases, environmental cases and/or insurance cases, those specialties will help you secure an in-house position as well.

Litigators have a better chance of finding in-house jobs focused on regulatory compliance.  Compliance-focused jobs are not easy to land for litigators, but they are more plentiful than litigation management positions.  If you want to go in-house, you have to think broader and regulatory compliance may be an area in which you can establish yourself.  If you are a litigator with some experience with pertinent regulations, you will have more options.  In particular, any experience with the FDA regulations, the FCPA, the False Claims Act and/or fraud and abuse statutes will help you pivot more readily to a compliance-focused, in-house position.   Recently, we placed a litigator from a law firm in-house with a consumer products company in a compliance role.  This lawyer had litigated cases dealing with specific regulations that were important to the company, therefore, he had the opportunity to interview with the company and prove that his experience was relevant.  It is worth noting that the position he secured is not a litigation management position, but rather a compliance-focused position.  Similarly, another lawyer recently went in-house with a medical device company in a regulatory compliance role because she had experience litigating product labeling actions which required some FDA knowledge.

Litigators who focus their practice on a specific industry have a better chance of securing in-house positions.  Having industry experience is different from having a litigation specialty.  If you do not have a specialized practice, you can draw from experience working with clients in a particular industry.  Industry knowledge and personal connections within the industry can help you transition in-house.  Even if the position is more commercial than litigation-focused, industry experience can help you beat out other candidates.  We recently placed a litigator with previous experience working for a food company in-house with one of our clients focused on the formulation of food ingredients/chemicals.  The position was not focused on handling or managing litigation, but the lawyer’s knowledge of the industry was paramount. Your industry knowledge helps you show the company that your “ramp up” time will not be as long as that of a typical litigator.

Litigators who illustrate their experience counseling clients before litigation arises are more attractive in the in-house job market.  If you can illustrate that you have experience counseling clients in specific industries, and not just litigating on behalf of them, that will help your in-house transition.  Companies want to hire lawyers who can help them avoid litigation, so the counseling aspect is key.  This holds true for employment lawyers as an example – most of the in-house employment roles do not involve a lot of litigation, but rather focus on the avoidance of litigation and counseling of internal clients.  Litigators who are in court every day arguing those cases are not as likely to secure an in-house position as the litigators who have a nice blend of litigation and counseling experience.  Litigators all know that to be effective they need to incorporate counseling into their practice, but many do not reflect that aspect/skill on their resume.  Do not assume that companies know you are counseling clients on a daily basis.  Make it clear to them.  If you are fielding calls from clients who ask for your opinion on a termination agreement or your review of a confidentiality agreement, highlight that experience on your resume, because that is the type of skill needed for in-house lawyers.

Litigators have a better chance of securing in-house roles at companies in which the General Counsel has a litigation background.  Many General Counsels started their careers as corporate lawyers and as such, really value the transactional skillset.  With the companies, however, that have litigators at the helm of the legal department, we have seen more interest in candidates with a litigation background.  Obviously, if the company needs a corporate lawyer, a litigator is not getting the job, despite the General Counsel’s background.  If, however, the position is more general in nature and has some elements of litigation and corporate work, a litigator seems to have a better chance when the hiring attorney shares that background.  Indeed, one of our life sciences clients is seeking an attorney to handle a variety of commercial, transactional and some litigation work – the hiring attorney started out as a litigator and therefore is open to considering a litigator for the role, even if that lawyer does not have the requisite transactional experience. Again, the mere fact that the General Counsel started his/her career as a litigator is not going to open doors for you as a litigator but if you have industry experience/subject matter expertise as explained above, it may help tip the scale in your favor.

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