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In house counsel and law firm attorney have traditionally been viewed as two distinct career paths for lawyers.
Generally, in house counsel develop legal expertise for their organization and learn to handle a wide variety of matters. On the other hand, law firm attorneys are typically more specialized and their salary is based in large part on their rainmaking abilities.
While success at a law firm and success as in house counsel oftentimes depends upon very different skills, recent data suggest that the lines separating these two careers are blurring as more and more in house counsel are leaving their jobs and joining firms.
The main reason that law firms may be poaching in house counsel may be the fact that there are so few attorneys in practice areas that suffered significant layoffs in recent years, reports the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. So in house counsel at real estate and construction companies may find that their skill sets are highly coveted by law firms, and are paid accordingly.
In addition, in house counsel may have corporate connections that firm wants. Having worked inside the company, in house counsel may have a deep connection of networks that law firms want to tap. An in house counsel's network just means more rainmaking opportunities for a firm.
Finally, the work that in house counsel and law firms perform may not be that different anymore. Most large companies retain both inside and outside counsel. As a result, law firms may be doing a lot of the work that was traditionally done by in house counsel.
But before any in house counsel makes that jump to a law firm, you must still remember there are benefits to non-law firm life. The world of billable hours and questions of how many clients you brought in can be brutal. While in house counsel traditionally are paid less, your quality of life is likely much higher outside a firm.