“How Do I Become An In-House Attorney?”
Hey Guys! Welcome back to our Alternative Career Series. Today we’ll be covering possibly one of the more popular alternatives to a traditional law firm position, the in-house attorney. These are the attorneys typically hired by a corporation to represent that sole entity in all of its legal matters. These attorneys are essentially the glue for a corporation, ensuring that they’re in compliance with the law on every business deal. These attorneys also frequently serve as the root behind the existence of that very corporation, drafting the contracts and overseeing the transactions that built the corporation from the ground up.
If you’re a law student reading this you’re probably thinking that an in-house career is a long way off, something that will only become a possibility way down the road after several years of practice. Now, while there is some truth to this thought pattern, as in-house jobs aren’t always readily available to entry level attorneys, don’t allow this thought to restrict your dreams. An in-house job right after law school is possible! Also, if you’re currently a post graduate looking to transition into the in-house field, this is most certainly accessible.
So how can your in-house dreams become a reality?
I’ve spoken with two in-house attorneys to try to pull the most accurate tips that can help with your in-house job search. One of these attorneys is a recent law school graduate who landed an in-house position as her very first job straight out of law school. Yes! You read that correctly, she is an entry-level in-house attorney working for a medical service company. The other attorney I spoke with worked for a law firm when she graduated from law school but successfully transitioned into an in-house position at a reputable insurance company. So if you’re a law student hoping to snatch an in-house position right after law school or if you’re a post graduate who wasn’t able to get an in-house position initially, but you’re looking to transition, keep reading.
What To Do Now If You’re Still In Law School Looking For An In-House Job
Use your Career Services Office
If you’re still in law school and you know you want an in-house position, the first thing you need to do once you’re done with this post is tell your career advisor! As I mentioned earlier, in-house jobs are very hard to get, especially for a brand new attorney, so it’s important that your career advisor knows that this is the kind of position you want so they can keep an eye out for you. In fact, the entry-level attorney I spoke with noted that this is how she got her job. She actually received an email from her career services office which stated that a medical service company was looking for an entry level attorney. It turns out that the company had a few alumni from her law school and, for that reason, they were specifically looking for graduates from that institution.
This is a prime example of how a career services office can be helpful. They were able to use their alumni network to provide a recent graduate with her in-house dreams.
Get An In-House Externship
So I know we’ve already discussed the importance of an externship throughout this series, but please excuse me as I stress once again how important an externship is, especially if you want an in-house position. During law school, I recommend that you apply for all the in-house externships that become available. The best part is that these externship positions are usually with reputable organizations that are specifically looking for law students. The entry-level attorney I spoke with actually secured an in-house externship position during law school. This position certainly boosted her resume and increased her chances of landing an in-house position right out of law school.
Find an In-House Mentor/Sponsor
Ok, so I know this is the part where you’re probably expecting me to say that networking is essential for getting an in-house position early on in your legal career. Well, it most definitely is! However, as a law student, it may be more beneficial for you to have some guided networking throughout an in-house mentor/sponsor to gain access to this field. The entry level attorney cited that during her externship, she developed a mentor/mentee relationship with one of the in-house attorneys at her organization. This attorney was able to serve as a reference when she applied for the in-house job she currently has. This attorney also, to this day, brings her to different in-house networking events where the entry level attorney has the opportunity to make numerous contacts within this field. As a law student, this is a prime time for you to find an in-house mentor/sponsor who can see your desire to break into this field from early on and who may be able to “go to bat” for you when you begin to complete your post graduate job applications.
Take The Right Courses/Do the Right Extracurriculars
During law school it’s also beneficial to take the right courses and do the extracurriculars that can help you to develop the skills that are necessary for an in-house career. So, as you select your courses for next semester, be sure to sign up for a contract drafting, intellectual property, corporate law or real property law course. These are all practice areas that you will frequently tackle as an in-house attorney. Also, be sure to participate in transactional related extracurriculars. The entry-level attorney I spoke with joined her school’s negotiations team. This experience helped her to develop necessary transactional skills and also allowed her to stand out during her post-graduate interviews.
Looking To Transition To In-House?
Now if you’re already a law school graduate looking to transition to in-house, here are some tips I received from a seasoned in-house attorney who transitioned from a law firm.
As a post graduate looking for an in-house position, you should definitely be networking throughout your search. But have you thought about broadening your network beyond other fellow attorneys? If you think about it, pretty much any organization needs an in-house attorney, so as you look to transition, it may be beneficial to let all your non-lawyer friends know about your search. There’s a possibility that the legal department for their company may be looking for in-house counsel. So use EVERYONE in your network as you search.
Don’t Allow Your Inexperience To Restrict Your Job Search
As you search for in-house positions, don’t let the fact that you haven’t worked in a specific field or that you have minimal/no experience in an area listed in a job description, limit your search. Even the smallest amount of exposure to a practice area can boost your application. Therefore, even if your prior position was litigation related, if you’ve had any opportunity to review a contract or complete a transactional task, be sure to add this experience to your resume. Additionally, if you have very limited experience in a job area don’t be afraid to use your friend Google. Simply googling the description of a type of law would put you at an advantage in an interview. Showing that you have some knowledge, is more effective than saying, “I don’t know.”
Apply Even If Your Qualifications Aren’t A perfect Match
Don’t be afraid to apply for jobs that you appear to be unqualified for based on the description. Job descriptions for in-house jobs tend to be wish lists and the company is usually aware that it is unlikely that they will find someone that meets all the criteria. The seasoned in-house attorney I spoke with also mentioned that at her own company, they’ve interviewed candidates with a pure litigation background for transactional jobs. These candidates usually got an interview based on their excellent credentials and an understanding that they could likely pick up transactional work quickly. So don’t be afraid to apply!
I hope the above information gets you into an in-house position sooner than you thought!
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