What’s Hot & What’s Not in the In-House Marketplace Today: Emphasizing the Skills Sets that are Transferable to Any Industry

You have heard it before – and you will most likely hear the phrase again – that ‘the only thing constant is change.’  That phrase applies to many situations, and the current state of the market on in-house counsel hiring is no exception.  So, we are going to take a closer look at what corporate legal departments are looking for currently.  In addition, we will discuss the kinds of skills that you need to not only survive, but thrive, in the current in-house marketplace.

The Current State of In-House Hiring

The current in-house hiring market has three specific characteristics:  (i) a tight labor market with significant turnover; (ii) changes in the life science industry resulting in the need for more in-house attorneys; and (iii) a corporate focus on in-house attorneys who are primarily business executives rather than lawyers.  Given those current trends, here is “what’s hot & what’s not” in in-house hiring.

  • What’s Hot – Staying Power

The tight labor market has resulted in companies doing their best to retain strong in-house attorneys and hire new attorneys who have the staying power to grow in the organization.  Thus, companies are looking for attorneys who express a clear desire to learn the ropes and grow in one place for the long term.

Of course, you would never tell an interviewer that you do not plan to stay long.  But, now more than ever, you should emphasize to an interviewer how much you want to develop your career in one organization.  Companies are currently laser-focused on finding that kind of commitment.

  • What’s Hot – New Trends in Life Sciences

Last year was a record year for new drug approvals.  Indeed, the pace of breakthrough innovation in life sciences has resulted in a greater demand for in-house attorneys in life science companies.  One such innovation is the increase in precision medications, which has called on companies to reconfigure how to handle, store, distribute, and administer time-sensitive medication.  Another trend is that regulatory changes at FDA are shaving off years on the approval of new drugs.

Those two developments, along with other major scientific and information changes at life science companies, require the help of legal professionals.  Accordingly, life science companies are eager to hire in-house legal support to smooth the transition to the new realities in the industry.

  • What’s Not – Zealous Advocate Role

When you are practicing in a firm, you may have been rewarded for your zealous advocate role. It may have been how you won cases and clients.  In-house legal departments, however, have a different emphasis.  Legal departments are seeking those attorneys who can break free of the zealous advocate role, and take on a more business perspective.

Those hiring for in-house counsel positions want an attorney with a track record of negotiating effectively, avoiding legal pitfalls before they arise, and resolving conflicts.  You have developed those skills in your law practice.  Yet, in an in-house setting, you need to move away from the adversarial aspects of the practice of law, and move towards a business executive, problem-solving approach

Are There Skills/Competencies That Are Transferable Across Industries?

Given the latest trends above, you may be wondering if you have the necessary skill sets to be competitive in the in-house counsel market.  Have no fear!

The practice of law, in and of itself, provides you some marvelous skills that are transferable across many industries, which you would be wise to emphasize on your resume and during your in-house interviews.  They are the skills that in-house hiring managers seek, including:

  • Negotiation. As an attorney, you are constantly negotiating to arrive at a desired conclusion.  You need to support your position with reliable sources of data, make complex analytical decisions, and form logical conclusions to arrive at solid recommendations, while still being able to see the world from the point of view of the other side.  Those skills are fundamental to many senior business executive roles.
  • Presentation. The ability to communicate confidently, effectively, and to many types of audiences, is something you learn as a lawyer.  Those skills are vital when moving into a business-focused role as in-house counsel.
  • Problem solving and Conflict resolution. As lawyers, your main job is to solve problems, whether they are resolving disputes or merging corporations.  The ability to take a problem and arrive at a resolution, rather than avoid the problem altogether, is invaluable in any business setting.
  • Working under pressure. Unlike the business world, lawyers tend to work under a constant sense of pressure.  There is always the impending brief deadline or upcoming board meeting.  Thus, having developed a certain ‘grace under pressure’ will inure to your benefit when you move into the in-house side of the world.
  • Working hard. A law degree and the practice of law both demand a lot of your life.  You quickly learn that success in the law requires long hours and discipline.  While you are likely seeking to lessen those hours by going in-house, you will find that “lawyer hours” are not the norm in a business setting.  Therefore, by default, you will be the hardest-working person in the room.

In sum, when looking to go in-house you need to keep your finger on the pulse of what is currently going on in the in-house hiring market.  That being said, you already have a strong set of transferable skills that can apply to any industry.  The key comes from knowing what skills to emphasize based on the current state of in-house hiring.  Since ‘the only thing constant is change,’ make sure that you strengthen your transferable skills and do not be afraid of changing a little along with the market.