In-house Counsel Job – A Guide for Young Lawyers II

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Factors to consider when going in-house

Finding that in-house position can be challenging, using your time in law school or in your current role wisely to build a resume that will show you are prepared for in-house practice is an important part of that process. This section will provide information that will help you prepare yourself for the journey to securing an in-house job.

Competitive job market

It is a very competitive process. Keep in mind that the business and industry number is overstated by some unknown amount. For the limited experienced lawyer seeking an in-house position, the picture is also challenging. The job market is challenging but it is also not impossible to secure an in-house job with dedication and persistence.

Resume building

A competitive job market adds to the challenge of securing an in-house position. To help you secure those jobs, build a resume that will be attractive to general counsels making hiring decisions. To better understand what skills, abilities, and experiences will build a resume attractive for in-house positions, below are points to consider

Years of experience needed

The chances of hiring a person with zero to three years of experience is very slim. The most popular level of experience for in-house hires would be three to six years. In a survey, it was revealed that in-house teams are simply not set up to train new lawyers. Law graduates and young lawyers are encouraged to focus on learning to practice law for few years before venturing in-house.

This is not saying it is completely impossible to get an in-house job following graduation or with little experience. Hiring an inexperienced lawyer for in-house job would depend on the position and the nature of the job. Position in governance, compliance, or regulatory work could be a fit for all; experienced and inexperienced lawyers.

Kind of experience

The kind of prior experience is dependent on the need. For instance, a company would search for an experienced lawyer in the field it has needs. Dan Ghoca, (general counsel at Promega Corporation) in an interview indicated that the law firm experience is like turning “coal into diamonds.” For instance, he explained, in the mergers and acquisitions context, a law graduate at a firm may be working on multiple deals at the same time or moving from one to another consecutively. The richness of that experience creates a solid understanding of what goes into making a transaction succeed. While transactions occur within companies, they do not occur at the same pace, and thus do not provide the same depth and speed of development.

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Law school experiences

Law school experiences that would rank high for the employer are the experience gained in the law in practice course and graduation grades. The remaining experiences, such as law review or other journal experience, judicial clerkships, business clinical, and moot court would be a “nice to have” but may not rate as important.

Personal characteristics

A personal characteristic that would be a must have is the lawyer’s problem solving skill. Good writing and communication skills are also extremely important. Other personal characteristics of importance include a proactive nature, responsiveness, intellectual and business curiosity and being a team player. All of which help build trust and relationships within the corporation. At this stage, an employer who would hire an inexperienced lawyer appreciates that understanding the business is something that should happen on the job.

Finding the Job

Armed with the knowledge of the challenges you face in securing an in-house position and the skills and experiences that will matter, the next step is finding that job. The following section of this article will provide you with some tips for finding that job.

The first step in securing an in-house position is to develop a plan and get started now. If you are in law school, seek out experiences and internships that will show you are practice ready. If you are practicing, make sure you are engaged in the kinds of practice that will fit what general counsels are looking for in new hires. Consider the following tips.

Learn to practice law

Remember that in-house legal departments do not have time to train you on how to practice law. You need to go to them with the ability to demonstrate that skill. Find law school experiences and employment during and after law school that will help you build and demonstrate practice skills. Then make sure those skills are reflected in your cover letter and resume, and do not be shy about talking about them in interviews.

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While learning practice skills in law school is a start, it may not be enough to land that in-house position you desire. If not, find a firm at which you will receive strong mentoring so that when the right in-house opportunity presents itself you will be able to demonstrate a good set of practice skills and a breadth of practice area experiences. If you are applying for a more generalist in-house role, make sure your experiences demonstrate an ability to handle a wide range of subjects. If you are applying for an IP position, make sure you demonstrate varied experience within the IP practice area.

Demonstrate an interest in business

In-house lawyers are partners with the business in making the business succeed. That means you need to like business and need to be willing to roll up your sleeves to understand it. It will make you a better in-house attorney. To do that, take all the business-related courses you can while in law school. Do not be afraid to review course offerings at the business school. They may add some depth to your resume. With your limited free time, participate in business-related activities that will build on your understanding of business and help you develop practice skills.

Cover letter and resume suggestions

When preparing a resume for submission to an in-house position, first review the job description for the position. Corporations generally have detailed descriptions of what they expect the hire will be doing. Make sure your resume reflects that job description. For instance, if the description indicates that the ideal candidate will be able to manage small projects, include an example from your life where you managed a small project.

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Based on what you learn from the job description, create a resume that represents what is desired for the job. However, keep your resume simple.

Interview tips

Review the job description as you prepare for the interview. Take some time to think about what the job requires and your life experiences. Be prepared to provide examples of things you have done that match the skills and abilities necessary for the job. Spend some time learning about the business of the company. During the interview, it is important that you demonstrate you know something about what they do and that you are curious about learning more.


Before beginning a search for an in-house position, take time to carefully consider if it will be the right job for you. If, after that consideration, you are convinced that an in-house position is for you, recognize that it will not be easy. Begin today by making sure that both your law school and post-law school experiences are reflective of your interest in being part of an in-house team.

Good luck in your job search!

Adapted: Your guide to becoming an in-house lawyer (the Guardian)
American Bar Association for Law Students


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