Celebrating 10 years! 2007-2017

Questions re In-House Counsel

A bunch of people I graduated with are lateraling, at least shikes04/09/17
Large companies like the ones you listed will have dozens if bingojackson04/09/17
Companies are finding it cheaper to hire "in-house" counsel 2breedbares04/09/17
I have seen a number of (presumably self-insured) big box re mrtor04/11/17
Thats just my point. I have no issue being a tort litigat shikes04/11/17
You're on the cliff at 4-6 years out. Once you fall off, if mrtor04/12/17
But, like I stated, I don't mind doing tort law for life. Th shikes04/12/17
"I imagine Target's counsel does a billion slip and falls, b associatex04/13/17
OP - please listen to mrtor. It's kind of like someone beco williamdrayton04/11/17
Well, I guess that I am the exception. I started off as a ruralattorney04/11/17
Certainly branching out into new practice areas within your mrtor04/11/17
Well, as a rural attorney, the private practice I was with d ruralattorney04/11/17
It depends on the company. If you're looking at places like ejs201704/11/17
^ This. There is a difference in title - Staff Counsel v. associatex04/12/17
shikes (Apr 9, 2017 - 10:16 am)

A bunch of people I graduated with are lateraling, at least according to LinkedIn, to staff counsel/senior counsel positions at large companies (Alcoa, Sony, Target, etc.). Most of these people are coming from firms where they did ID, Comp, PI, etc.. Not mind blowing stuff. While there may be some transferable skills, I feel like going in house after doing Comp is largely like starting over and having to learn completely new law.

1. How and why are companies hiring in house from people with 4-6 years of experience in nothing that they do (outside of "general litigation skills" I guess)?

2. What do in house people do on an every day basis? I always felt like it was reviewing a bunch of guidelines, merger docs, pending litigation, etc. and sitting behind the desk a lot. I truly have no clue what it means to be in house counsel. Can someone give me an idea of what the day to day is like? Are there litigation and transactional in house counsel as separate departments?

Thanks

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bingojackson (Apr 9, 2017 - 11:41 am)

Large companies like the ones you listed will have dozens if not hundreds of in house counsel for a variety of matters, including litigators to manage the likely large docket of cases they're involved in. For example, a company like Target probably gets sued for personal injury on a daily basis (slip and fall, other stupid crap). I had an in house internship during law school and principally worked for the deputy GC tasked with managing their litigation. Basically he just liaised with outside counsel every day and made a final judgment calls on certain strategies.

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2breedbares (Apr 9, 2017 - 4:16 pm)

Companies are finding it cheaper to hire "in-house" counsel for litigation matters if they're self insured for certain purposes. These positions differ from a traditional in-house role (i.e. corporate counsel that monitors outside counsel and does contract review). I'm a hybrid in house counsel for a large company. I handle a small amount of complex coverage matters (think bad faith) but also do typical in house duties (advisory, subpoena stuff, employment crap, etc.)

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mrtor (Apr 11, 2017 - 9:27 am)

I have seen a number of (presumably self-insured) big box retailers looking for "staff counsel." These staff counsel positions are not within the traditional umbrella of the general counsel's office. They do not handle (and never will handle) corporate or contractual matters, but rather defend the company against injury lawsuits and workers' compensation claims. They also sometimes train store managers and handle consumer issues such as debt collection (e.g. store credit card delinquencies). These are the duties from a recent listing for an entry-level counsel position with a major hardware retailer. I would venture to guess many of your former classmates are transitioning into these types of roles.

Few experienced injury attorneys are going to be competitive candidates for in-house corporate work since they have very few skills and little knowledge that will transfer over. Any who make such a jump likely have personal connections who will go out on a limb for them and give them a shot. It is the exception, not the norm.

I hate to say it, but at 4-6 years out, more likely than not, you are stuck in tort litigation for the rest of your career. No employer wants to pay you an experienced attorney's salary and have to teach you an entirely new field of law, especially when there are newer (and cheaper) attorneys with more relevant skills and experience (and who are not set in their ways). Not to say you can't go in-house at all, it just won't be doing corporate or contractual work. Look for tort staff counsel positions with employers or insurers. Those are your best bet.

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shikes (Apr 11, 2017 - 7:42 pm)

Thats just my point.

I have no issue being a tort litigation attorney for life. However, I want to see in house positions for non-insurance companies. I don't wanna do car accidents my whole life for some random people who bought insurance. I'll gladly do litigation for Target or Under Armor or whatever.

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mrtor (Apr 12, 2017 - 11:05 am)

You're on the cliff at 4-6 years out. Once you fall off, if you haven't already, there's little chance of coming back.

If you want to move out of tort litigation, you better start looking immediately. Most staff counsel positions are not going to offer you the exit you seem to be seeking. The positions will involve training managers, handling workers' compensation and injury claims, resolving collections issues, and the like. They are not a ticket to more prestigious areas of litigation.

You need to look for a firm that will give you the opportunity to litigate outside of the tort realm. With that experience, you may be able to work into a true in-house position.

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shikes (Apr 12, 2017 - 7:28 pm)

But, like I stated, I don't mind doing tort law for life. This isn't about getting out of tort law. This is about working for one specific company in their tort litigation as opposed to an insurance company as staff counsel. I imagine Target's counsel does a billion slip and falls, breach of contracts, etc.. I'll gladly take that.

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associatex (Apr 13, 2017 - 9:39 am)

"I imagine Target's counsel does a billion slip and falls, breach of contracts, etc.. "

Just a caveat - these type of jobs aren't necessarily performed by Target's in-house lawyers. Regular insurance defense firms routinely handle slip/falls (premises liability) on behalf of commercial insurers all the time. Wilson Elser handles a ton of this type of work. My old firm represented a third party claims administrator/insurer which issued policies to retail stores and restaurants like McDonalds, Lord & Taylor, in all types of slip/falls. I represented Lord & Taylor when a customer sued the store because she slipped and fell on a melted ice cream cone by the makeup counters and 'allegedly' broke her hip. It was one of the my most ridiculous cases (notwithstanding the nutty plaintiff), but I easily had 10 cases where all I did was slip/fall claims made against May Department stores.

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williamdrayton (Apr 11, 2017 - 10:56 am)

OP - please listen to mrtor. It's kind of like someone becoming staff counsel for Allstate, Nationwide, Liberty Mutual or State Farm - they are simply defending injury claims against ambulance chasers - not sitting in on a corporate board meeting.

it's always to important to understand what kind of role you are applying for - best of luck.

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ruralattorney (Apr 11, 2017 - 11:17 am)

Well, I guess that I am the exception.

I started off as a state prosecutor. I transitioned into a private firm doing civil litigation. Slowly but surely, I began to take on transactional work under the mentorship of one of the attorneys in the office. I did quite a lot of work for a particular business client and they eventually hired me full time as in-house counsel. Yes, I do some litigation for them, but that is very little of my overall workload.

It took the stars to align just right, but it can happen if you make it happen.

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mrtor (Apr 11, 2017 - 11:26 am)

Certainly branching out into new practice areas within your current employment is doable (under the right circumstances and in the right firm environment). However, changing jobs from simple tort litigation to a true corporate in-house counsel position is not realistic. That's what OP was getting at.

Unfortunately, many tort firms are exclusively tort firms. You must have lucked with a firm more amenable to a broader range of practice areas. OP's only hope is for a situation similar to yours.

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ruralattorney (Apr 11, 2017 - 11:33 am)

Well, as a rural attorney, the private practice I was with didn't have the luxury to do only one type of law.

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ejs2017 (Apr 11, 2017 - 11:48 am)

It depends on the company. If you're looking at places like Liberty Mutual, State Farm, etc., you're simply substituting for panel counsel so you'll be handling auto negligence, premises liability and similar personal lines types of cases first chair. As williamdrayton stated, you will not be sitting in on board meetings or participating in high-level transactional work. You probably won't be doing coverage work either as that tends to get farmed out to retained coverage counsel.

Unless you want to be pigeon-holed as PI defense attorney, avoid these roles if you can. One of my biggest career f-ups was taking a lot of money to work as managing trial attorney for a smaller specialized risk insurance company. As a consequence, I've been pegged as a no-fault specialist and my career has not yet recovered.

As for the other types of staff or in-house positions I've found that those seem to go to people with experience doing transactional, employment, real estate or other specialized work in a mid- or large-size firm environments. Absent the stars aligning, those roles are difficult to come by.

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associatex (Apr 12, 2017 - 10:44 am)

^ This.

There is a difference in title - Staff Counsel v. In House Counsel. I work for an insurer as staff counsel (what lawyers also refer to as "Captive" counsel). We defend against third party and first party claims in auto accidents. It is completely different than what "in house" counsel does.

In house counsel works directly for corporate and defends the company in contract/employment/labor type disputes. The 'in house' counsel jobs are typically filled by former Biglaw attorneys or attorneys w/ transactional/contract experience. Staff counsel is, for the most part, treated as a mini-ID firm within an insurance company.

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