INHOUSE INSIDER Forum, News, and Career Center for In-House Counsels

23Apr/080

What To Consider Before Accepting That In-House Offer?

You've spent the last few months updating your resume, evaluating opportunities, and interviewing. Finally, all of the hard work has paid off, and what you have been waiting for has arrived: an offer to join a company as an in-house counsel. However, while you may feel a sense of relief, accomplishment, and happiness, you may also feel a sense of anxiety and uncertainty. Determining whether to accept an offer and the company for what they are can be as difficult as any decision you will have to make during the course of your career. Here are a few factors to considered when deciding whether or not to accept an in-house offer.

1. Compensation. Even if money isn't what gives you the most job satisfaction, no one can argue its importance. Most of us want to make sure we are being paid what we're worth and what the going rate is for jobs similar to ours. You need to conduct research as to whether the offer is in step with market, and obtain information on how your offer compares to what others are making at the same level, in the same industry, with companies of similar size and status, and in the same geographic region.

You need to do some independent research to obtain this information —and unfortunately there is no "one stop shop" to obtain this information. You will need to search the internet, and review surveys published by organizations like Altman Weil, Lexis-Nexis, ACCA, or Corporate Counsel, etc. You may also want to turn to legal recruiters with experience in the in-house legal marketplace. They may be able to provide you with this data, as well as give you information regarding the company's particular compensation structure. If you are already working with a legal recruiter, they may also be invaluable in helping you negotiate your offer where appropriate.

If you are coming from private practice, you may have to bite the bullet and take home a smaller paycheck. The median base salaries for in-house attorneys with a minimum of 5 years of experience remains steady at $100K-$150K per year, with bonuses averaging 20%-30% of base. While deferred compensation, including bonuses, has risen considerably, the majority of national law firm attorneys with 5 years of experience transitioning to traditional in-house staff positions can experience compensation reductions ranging between 50%-70%.

2. Financial Stability. The financial heath and stability of the company you are joining is one of the most important factors to consider. Where is the company heading? Is there a merger on the horizon? Will it be going public? Is it doing well enough financial to ensure its future existence?

The financial stability of a company refers simply to whether it is doing well in business or not. There are various ways that it can be measured, but in the end they all add up to the same thing: is this company in sound financial shape or isn't it? If it is, then the company is probably a quality one that will continue to be viable into the future. If not, well...you may have to seriously re-think your offer.

Large Companies: Most larger companies are publicly traded, and there are various resources around that can help you determine their status in approximate terms. Public American firms are required by the Securities and Exchange Commission to publish certain financial data; it is usually fairly easy to find. What have their earnings been like for the last year? Look at their sales trend over the last year or two as well.

Also look at the stock price: stocks can be volatile, but a steep decline could be a sign that someone is worried about something! Also, check discussions of the company in the various media for any rumblings of potential financial distress: when big companies get into serious trouble, rumors start flying. Just remember that rumors can be unreliable too.

Small & Privately Held Companies: Smaller and privately held companies can be harder to assess. You have to research the company in general terms, look at how long they have been in business, and most importantly, what they are doing now. It is advisable to have in-depth discussions with the business executives about their short and long-term plans, their current funding, and level of activity.

Typically, when small companies get into trouble, their service and reputation begin to seriously suffer, so that's what you want to look for. There usually isn't much more that you can do other than that. Obviously, if you are being offered a General Counsel role, you should ask to review the company's financial statements. However, if you've applied for a staff counsel position, you may have to rely on the good faith of the company's representatives. Private firms aren't required to make public their finances, and they will not likely want to share this information with you.

3. Opportunities For Advancement. In private practice, attorneys move from student to associate to partner. But in-house attorneys don’t have the same clear career path, and opportunities for advancement can be seen as limited. Before you make any decisions, you need to ask the right questions, and do your homework.

Small Legal Departments. If you are joining a small legal department with five or less attorneys, you may find that there is no room at the top, or no room to grow. You may soon realize that the general counsel isn’t going anywhere, and that you may have to move on to move up — unless you want to keep doing the same work year after year, and are willing to wait for that general counsel to step down.

That said, small departments may be better situated to see a greater breadth of legal issues, keeping repetitive work to a minimum, and allocating more repetitive work to outside counsel. You need to have a clear understanding of the work you will be expected to handle, as well as the succession plan, if any, the legal department might have in place.

While you may not be actually changing positions or title in a smaller legal department, you may be more likely to obtain raises. Many attorneys in legal departments that are fairly small or flat, see their paychecks get larger as they get better at their jobs. If title and prestige is not on top of your list, and you are willing to bid your time for the top spot, this may be the right option for you.

Large Legal Departments. Companies with larger legal departments of fifty or more attorneys, usually have more avenues for advancement. They may have a more hierarchical structure to enable its attorneys to move up to more senior roles with more responsibilities and greater levels of compensation. Companies with worldwide operations may also be able to promote its attorneys by making them responsible for a country or geographic area, or for a specific legal subject matter within a region.

Some companies, irrespective of the size of their legal department, may also open up opportunities to its attorneys to move within its business ranks. This is a trend that has become more popular over time, especially as general counsels have become increasingly involved in the business of the companies they represent. There are many more general counsels moving to CEO and COO positions within companies. More junior-level attorneys have made successful transitions to other executive-level business positions. Some companies even offer MBA tuition programs, and other business training to help elevate some of its top attorneys to business positions.

That said, even when a hierarchy exists within the legal department, attorneys often don’t know what skills they need to learn to get to the next level, or what opportunities exist outside the legal department. Therefore, before you make your next move, be sure to discuss your career aspirations with your potential employer, so that they are aware of what opportunities you might be interested in.

If you are operating in a smaller legal department, try to develop business skills that increase your value to the company, and be ready to approach executive management about financing course work or business degrees. Having the flexibility to learn new skills and reinvent one’s self can keep your job challenging and make you available to more opportunities.

3. The People & Culture. Every company possesses a culture that can range from traditional and conservative to entrepreneurial and liberal. This is where the impressions that you formed during your interview will help you determine whether the particular company environment is right for you.

Were people talking to each other when you walked the halls? Were the doors closed or open? Was the staff treated with respect? How did the business executives interact with each other? How do the business executives interact with their attorneys? How formal or informal was the interview? How did people dress? Was the office decorated in traditional oak panels and dull colors, or was it modern, with bright art and lights?

Finding an environment that reflects not only your personality, but also your ability to effectively develop professionally is a key element in your future success as an attorney. Certainly, many attorneys can be happy and thrive personally and professional in completely different environments. What you need to determine is what environment is the right one for you.

Company culture also comprises other factors, including shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterize a company. If you value your time away from the office, a company that consistently requires late hours and weekend sessions may not be right for you. On the other hand, the type of work you seek, the opportunities for growth, and the sophistication of the practice may also translate directly into more hours spent at the office. What you need to determine is whether this is a company that shares your values, goals, and ambitions.

Conclusion. Each of us of course is different, and determining what factors are important may vary greatly depending on the individual. You may attempt to negotiate a higher salary, additional vacation time, and better health benefits. However, these items are often part of a standard package determined by a company’s compensation structure, and you may or may not be able to effectively negotiate them. In addition, other factors, such as a company’s "culture," are also unlikely to change.

The key to making the right in-house move is to do your homework. Each of these factors taken alone may not make or break your decision to accept or decline an in-house job offer. Moreover, these are but a few factors to consider when making a decision. You may also need to consider additional factors that are particularly relevant to your overall professional goals and aspirations.

Whether you choose to accept or reject your job offer, you should contact the employer who made that offer in a timely fashion. Your rejection or acceptance should be done formally, in writing, as well as by telephone. The business community is a small one, and you may at some point develop a relationship with that employer as a superior, a colleague, a client, or even your next-door neighbor. Therefore, irrespective of your decision, one of the most important things you should consider when mulling over a job offer is the importance of safeguarding the relationships that were created during this process.

Remember to keep an open mind, ask questions, do your research, and weigh all the factors carefully. Your dream job might just be around the corner...

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17Apr/080

GC’s Planning to Hire More Help in 2008.

According to a new Association of Corporate Counsel survey, 32.3% of Chief Legal Officers are planning to hire more in-house lawyers over the next 12 months. This new survey supports our own State of the Market Report, which also indicated strong hiring over the next year. Not only are we seeing in-house legal work increasing both in corporate transactions and compliance matters, but General Counsels are also looking for ways to curb outside counsel expenditures. An obvious tactic in responding to growing outside counsel fees is to take more work in-house, and therefore hire more attorneys and legal support staff. We have observed a marked increase in legal hiring in companies with $500 millions or less in revenue - larger companies above $1 billion in annual revenues have also been keeping theit legal hiring relatively steady. This is encouraging news for attorneys looking to transition in-house, or simply looking to make a move.
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14Apr/080

Beware The Parent Trap

It starts with the best of intentions. A company wants to be family-friendly, a workplace conducive to work-life balance. It allows some employees to work flexible schedules, but does so without first creating a flexible workplace policy or consulting in-house counsel. Decisions on flexibility are left to each manager, leading to differences among managers as to what is permitted and what is not. What can GC's do to protect the company from litigation while providing a parent-friendly environment? Jennifer Blum Feldman, a partner at Wolf, Block, Schorr and Solis-Cohen, suggests "treating similarly situated employees the same regardless of their family responsibilities and never to make an employment decision on the basis of an employee's status as a parent or nonparent." See the entire article for her tips and suggestions.
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9Apr/080

No Jerks Allowed: How and Why GCs Can Stop Angry, Rude and Demeaning Workplace Behavior

General counsels tend to become responsible for their companies’ most crucial, yet most sensitive and volatile assets: their employees. What can GC's do to deal the proverbial ass#@!s and jerks that can have a radioactive effect on the rest of the team? Create a culture and system where “people will treat others as they would like to be treated” suggests attorney Michael P. Maslanka. Easier said than done, especially if the ass#@!s and jerks happen to hold the top positions within a company. Maslanka offers some tips to GC’s trying to curb the loss of productivity generated by these bad apples, such as encouraging more face to face interaction, limiting hierarchy, teaching management better interpersonal skills, and motivating employees by inspiring them.
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8Apr/080

Selecting The "Right" Legal Recruiting Firm

In light of the multitude of legal recruiting firms out there, how do you select the right legal recruiting firm for your company?

1. Look at Their Specialization.

When selecting a recruiting firm to conduct your attorney search, you should strictly narrow your search to legal recruiting firms.

Why?

If you were to undergo bypass heart surgery, you would select a cardiac surgeon rather than a general surgeon to perform your operation. A recruiting firm specialized in the search and placement of attorneys possesses a deeper understanding of the industry itself, attorneys in particular, and of the process needed to ensure the results you are seeking.

A legal recruiting firm has developed the contacts and network to identify and deliver the type of legal talent you seek. They simply have greater access to and knowledge of qualified attorneys around the country than another other type of recruiting firm.

2. Look at Their Industry Focus.

Is your legal recruiting firm focused on the legal in-house marketplace? Does your legal recruiting firm have the resources and expertise to stay current with respect to in-house positions and shifting market forces?

The ongoing debate about legal department recruiting versus law firm recruiting has served to underline an interesting fact: companies and law firms typically hire and select attorney candidates based on different sets of criteria.

Both are looking for talented and highly skilled attorneys to join their ranks, but companies tend to look for candidates that not only possess certain legal skills, but who can also become part of the company's overall business. Companies hire attorneys that possess all of the attributes necessary to be effective legal counsels as well as successful business partners.

Legal recruiting firms focused on in-house attorney recruiting understand the particular attributes required of an in-house counsel. As a result, they know how to identify and select potential candidates based on the particular needs of companies. Legal recruiting firms that also service law firms, place contract attorneys, paralegal, secretaries etc., are generally not as focused, nor as knowledgeable about this particular niche market, and therefore not as well-equipped to find and select the right candidates.

A legal recruiting firm focused on in-house attorney recruiting can mobilize all of its efforts and resources for the sole purpose of identifying candidates that best meet your particular needs. Rather than spread resources and legal recruiters’ efforts over several areas, a specialized legal recruiting firm that focuses exclusively on the in-house legal market will provide you with the most effective and efficient search services available.

3. Look at Their Methodology.

You should expect a legal recruiting firm to do more than simply review resumes and send out rejection letters.

Screening the correct and "true attorney" for your position is critical. What is the background of the legal recruiters who will be identifying and screening these potential candidates. Are they attorneys themselves? How well do they understand the market? The industry? What kind of screening methods do they use?

Hiring mistakes can be extremely expensive, and ensuring that your legal recruiting firm has the talent and methodology to effectively screen and select the right candidates is crucial.

4. Look at Their References and Results.

A legal recruiting firm reluctant to provide references automatically raises a red flag.

If a company has interviewed two equally good legal recruiting firms for a particular search, the next obvious step is to contact at least a couple of references. Keep this in mind: not all legal recruiting firms are alike, and therefore references should be treated accordingly.

Be sure to take into consideration how long the legal recruiting firm has been in business, and what level of success it has achieved. You cannot equally compare a legal recruiting firm that has been in business for twenty years over one that has been in business for five, or one with a hundred recruiters versus one with less than ten.

In this business, older and bigger does not necessarily mean better. In fact, smaller legal recruiting firms can typically provide more competitive rates, a higher level of personal service, and often more effective overall results. Smaller legal recruiting firms represent fewer clients, and therefore focus on delivering cost-effective and successful results to ensure repeat business.

When considering a recruiting firm, beware of legal recruiting firms that have extensive experience representing companies in your industry. While they may dazzle you with their extensive client roster, industry experience, and large teams of legal recruiters, this sort of success may actually work against your best interest.

Legal recruiting firms with long client lists come with limitations. They are more likely to be representing several clients at once on similar searches. As a result, client preferences become inevitable, and that may not be good news for you. If you were conducting a general counsel search on behalf of your long-time client who is paying significantly more than a new client in the same city or industry also conducting a general counsel search, to whom would you present your best candidates? As a client you should expect to be presented with the best candidates, without having to compete internally with other company clients. Unfortunately, that is often not the case, especially when the recruiting firm is very large, and works on simultaneous search assignments.

These same legal recruiting firms are also more likely to be bound by non-solicitation agreements, preventing them from contacting attorneys from these very same companies you would probably want to recruit from. In other words, if they are acting ethically, they may be victims of their own success, and be severely restricted from contacting and presenting all qualified candidates to your company because of client conflicts.

Conclusion.

Selecting the "right" legal recruiting firm for your attorney search can be a challenging process. However, by considering these various factors you should be able to narrow down your choices to recruiting firms that are better positioned to provide you with the results you are looking for.

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7Apr/080

Where Are The Red Hot New Attorneys: India!

A full-blown salary war has erupted in India in response to increased local and international competition for talent, resulting in pay increases of more than 50 per cent at most top Indian law firms in the last year. Good-quality lawyers are not only being hired by law firms in India, but various international firms have started hiring lawyers straight from law school or from Indian firms.

In addition, about 100 legal process outsourcing companies employ between 600 and 800 Indian attorneys per year, offering their services abroad at bargain prices, the ABA Journal reported in an October 2007 story, "Manhattan Work at Mumbai Prices." While that number is still a tiny percentage of India’s legal sector, which is estimated to have 80,000 new law graduates every year, it can only increase based on estimates of how big outsourcing is expected to become.

International law firms are also snapping up recent law grads from India in anticipation that the Indian market will eventually allow foreign firms to open offices there, the Economic Times report. Clifford Chance, Herbert Smith, Linklaters, Olswang and SJ Berwin have recruited many Indian law school students and laterals. Clifford Chance is understood to have received more than 100 applications and has taken on more than 10 trainees from India in the latest round.

Globalization is increasingly placing pressure on the value of legal services, forcing law firms and in-house legal departments to redefine and reevaluate their value proposition to remain competitive. With basic legal work being outsourced at an increasing rate, what does this mean in terms of training opportunities for junior associates in law firms? Is this work being handled as a commodity by in-house legal departments? What are the long-term effects of this new trend?

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1Apr/080

Hiring Lawyers by the Numbers

Under pressure to control expenditures for legal services, general procurement divisions are getting increasingly more involved in the hiring of outside counsel. Can legal services be handled like a commodity? How can one measure the value of effective legal services? At stake are the costs of trusted outside counsel relationships, and the ability to effectively differentiate between attorneys with the skills and trust required for the job. Ursula Furi-Perry takes a look at these issues as the pressures to cut legal costs continue to affect law departments.
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