What Is the Timeline for Getting Your Next In-House Job?

By William Vogeler, Esq. on April 13, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

'There is no spoon.'

So said the bald kid in The Matrix explaining that traditional rules do not apply, but so also said attorney Tracey Lesetar-Smith in describing the rules for getting an in-house job.

"The conventional rule is that one must toil away in law firms for eight-plus years before earning the right to jump in-house," she said. But is it really a rule?

Writing for the ABA Young Lawyers Division, Lesetar-Smith said there are no rules when it comes to landing in-house jobs. Everybody has a different story. Here are a few more:

If you sense it is time to look for another job, checking certain job sites can give you a reality check. You may find your next gig right away, but you can also see what's trending.

The Association of Corporate Counsel should be at the top of your list, which should also include GonInHouse.com, LinkedIn, and FindLaw's Career Center. But don't forget Craigslist; it's good for finding smaller companies, start-ups and specific locations.

Networking, of course, is case-specific when moving around in-house circles. Upper Case Networking With People In The Industry; lower case networking with lawyers who are vying for the same positions.

Start-up Over

Daniel Dokorti, writing for TC online, offered some insight into why start-ups hire in-house counsel. He said they want a different kind of lawyer -- the kind that take risks.

"When start-up CEOs recruit their first in-house attorney, they look for someone who can replace 'no, because' with 'yes, if,'" Dokorti said.

He said "conventional wisdom" dictates that start-ups want their first general counsel to have four to 10 years of experience in corporate practice. "Less conventional wisdom" points to mitigating factors, such as budget and size.

Strategic Timing

According to career strategist Julie Q. Bush, the sweet spot for the amount of time to stay in one job before moving on is 4-5 years. But it could be longer, she said, depending on opportunities in the marketplace.

"If there is no additional opportunity for material growth or advancement within this 4-5 year timeframe, I recommend that you start exploring your options on the market for your next career chapter (in some geographic regions where lawyers like to stay put, this range can stretch to 7-8 years)," she wrote as The Lawyer Whisperer.

Bush said the timeline stretches out for general counsel, as they tend to be less mobile.

"There is no one uniform number, but if you're hitting 15 years with one company, your tenure will likely be an interview topic," she said. "So you will need to demonstrate how your role has changed and/or how your company has evolved."

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