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Enough With In-House: Tips for Moving Back to Firm Life

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on May 21, 2015 3:46 PM

Maybe you miss the pay of a high performing firm, or you long to return to litigation. Perhaps you've just realized that the General Counsel isn't going to die and leave you the top spot anytime soon. Whatever the reason, you want to go back to firm life.

The good news is, it can be done! Lawyers are increasingly making moves from in-house departments to firm practice. But it's not always an easy transition. Here's some tips to help ease your way:

You Can Go Back, After All

Practicing at a law firm and working in-house are often viewed as separate career paths, with few lawyers hopping back and forth between the two. Those career paths aren't as separate as they once were, however. More and more in-house counsel have been making the move back to firms. Some move because they miss the pace and pay of firm life, while others are poached for their deep expertise in important industries. Lateral moves from legal departments to law firms are becoming an increasingly viable option for many lawyers.

Get Ready to Specialize Even More

In-house attorneys and General Counsel develop laser-focused industry knowledge and insight, but they often handle a variety of different legal matters, from employment law, to cybersecurity, to regulatory compliance. When you go back to practicing at a firm, that knowledge will definitely inform your practice, but you'll also need to further specialize. Be prepared to go from 'jack of all trades' to 'jack of M&A's.'

Get Ready for Billable Hours

Say goodbye to corporate efficiency metrics, hello billable hour. Once you're back at a firm, your performance will be measured by the classic lawyerly benchmark -- how much you can bill. For in-house counsel who've been away for a while, or who never worked in a firm to begin with, returning to a system that has you record every email and phone call can take some adjusting.

Bring 'Em In

It's a good thing you have all those industry connections, because your firm will likely expect you to use them. If you return to a firm, that means you'll be expected to start rainmaking. Take your Rolodex with you and start bringing in new clients. You're especially primed to work with in-house legal departments seeking outside counsel. After all, you'll have mastered both roles.

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