How to Become an In-House Counsel: A Look at 8 Recent Moves

By Andrew Lu on November 07, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Eight recent changes at top in-house positions were reported by Inside Counsel. A look at the eight personnel moves may be a bit sobering for many attorneys wanting to know how to become an in-house counsel themselves.

That's because these organizations didn't pluck their new GCs from the law firm ranks (and certainly not from the ranks of recent law school grads); rather, many simply promoted from within the organization or hired an attorney from a very similar organization.

General counsel positions have long been viewed as the Holy Grail for many BigLaw attorneys. But based on a review of these eight GC moves, not that many BigLaw attorneys are transitioning to top in-house jobs.

For example, multinational firm 3M Co. hired Ivan Fong to be their general counsel. Fong was a former general counsel for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and had previously served as chief legal officer at Cardinal Health and as general counsel at GE, reports Inside Counsel.

Other organizations like Alliant Techsystems Inc. and VHA hired their general counsel from very similar organizations. These hires brought years of GC experience from other companies and simply migrated to their new gigs.

For organizations like the Kansas City Police Department, Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group, and Acorda Therapeutics, they simply promoted their general counsel from within.

Of the eight in-house moves reported by IC, only in Stephen Ambrose's appointment as general counsel for Isis (a mobile telephone company) did a company hire its new GC directly from a firm. And in that case, Ambrose was the managing partner of a decent-sized firm; he also had previous general counsel experience.

The take-away for those wanting to become in-house counsel is that it can still be very difficult to break into the field. Most organizations hire other general counsel to fulfill their own positions. And when groups do reach out to candidates at law firms, they seem to be hiring those who have prior in-house experience.

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