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Realities of Being In-House
By Amy E. Wong

Picture By Dewonger
Six attorneys recently made a visit to their alma mater, University of Southern Califoria (USC) School of Law, to speak to students about the realities of working in-house. In their tell-all, the good perks seemed to outweigh both the bad and the ugly drawbacks—that is, if you're the type who craves excitement, change, and the adrenaline rush of handling major corporate decisions.

So, what is it like working in-house?

Imagine handling one client with a whole mess of legal problems.

You handle more cases, but on a broader level. As an in-house attorney, you will be working to protect your company, so you'll grow really familiar with your client's needs.

And, in most cases, these needs are going to be broader than what you would be handling at a law firm. In most cases, you will be asked to handle everything from real estate, to copyright, to labor and employment issues.

Michelle Feinstein '02, speaker at the event, noted an obvious difference in her legal concentration after she made her move from an associate position in a Century City law firm to the director of legal affairs at Grill Concepts. As an associate, she concentrated on real estate transactions and was afforded the opportunity to become an expert in that field.

Now, however, Feinstein has broadened her legal scope. She said, "The world opened up to these other issues that, when I was doing real estate, I didn't even realize were going on."

In addition to handling a broader range of cases, in-house counsel are responsible for all the company's legal matters, which translates into a larger caseload. Ted Russell '94, senior vice president of litigation at Fox Entertainment Group, said at the event, "Instead of having three or four cases at a time, I had 54."

Russell continued, "What you learn is you're focusing on different parts of all these matters rather than knowing each case inside out. You end up making better decisions."

Decision-making is another major difference between working as an associate in a law firm and corporation. As an in-house counsel, you will be working for a business, which means that you will be making legal decisions that are in the business' best interest. You manage and cooperate with outside counsel, streamline company litigation, and provide sound legal advice.

Bryant Danner '63, former General Counsel of energy mogul Edison International, said at the USC-sponsored event, "It was so refreshing and new and challenging to be in an in-house position as general counsel and to be not just a consultant, but a participant and decision-maker."

Danner continued, "To be invested in the business world and be a part of the decision-making process and see how the company worked was an incredibly rewarding part of the job."

Nevertheless, the perks of working in-house also serve as a double-edged sword. For some, it can be tough telling the person who signs your paychecks, "No." It can be stressful to tell your boss, "This is going to cost tons, but you simply have to do it." For some, it's easy to lose sight of government regulations and get caught up in protecting the company's bottom line.

Look at Nancy Heinan of Apple Computers, Ann Baskins of Hewlett-Packard, and Kent Roberts of McAfee Software Company—all of these former General Counsels were involved or indicted in some company financial scheme.

It's arguable that, in comparison to associates at large firms, in-house counsels get compensated less and have less job security. Ann Framholz, senior counsel at Kaiser Permanente, said that law firms view their attorneys as profitable assets while companies often view their legal departments as an expensive and troublesome cost. This can be frustrating, especially when you're working your tail off trying to save the company from legal, financial, and social ruin!

As is always the case, when you look for a job, take into consideration the job description and the company itself! While there are some thankless companies that will closet you into a tiny office, there are some companies out there that will respect your advice and provide the exciting opportunities you crave.

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University of Michigan Ann Arbor School of Law

University of Michigan Ann Arbor School of Law

The University of Michigan Ann Arbor School of Law or the Michigan School of Law as it is popularly known is one of the oldest law schools of the U.S. and it consistently ranks among the top 10 law schools of the U.S. in rankings published by different sources and organizations. Michigan Law School is considered to have one of the best campuses and collegiate environment among U.S. law schools.

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