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February Tally: Law Firms Lay Off Another 2,000+ Attorneys and Staff

In January, well-known law firms laid off more than 1,500 attorneys and staff. In February more than 2,000 attorneys and staff lost their jobs.

By the end of “Bloody” Friday the 13th, more than 1,100 lawyers and staff in the U.S. had been fired or asked to consider buyouts.

Today, Latham & Watkins announced that it was laying off 190 associates, or approximately 12 percent of the firm's associate base. The firm also announced cuts of 250 non-legal staff, including paralegals. The most dramatic cuts announced so far by an Am Law 100 firm.

Last week, Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman inadvertently announced attorney layoffs when a senior partner discussed the firm's situation on his cell phone in a crowded commuter train (see post “The Pillsbury Debacle: Can You Hear Me Now?”). The firm offered voluntary buyouts this week, and may hold off on layoffs until March.

Internationally, law firms are not faring any better. On February 19th, London-based Allen & Overy, announced that it would be cutting up to 450 attorneys and staff. United Kingdom-based Simmons & Simmons sent 20 associates and 49 staff packing. As one UK-based consultant mentioned on our Blog, "this is just the tip of the iceberg."

New firms announcing layoffs in February 2009 included:

  • Bilzin Sumberg Baena Price & Axelrod (2 attorneys and 2 staff)
  • Bryan cave (58 attorneys and 76 staff)
  • Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney (25-30 staff)
  • Calfee, Halter & Griswold (4 attorneys and 2 staff)
  • Cozen O'Connor (61 staff)
  • Day Pitney (66 staff)
  • Dechert (10 staff attorneys)
  • DLA Piper (80 attorneys and 100 staff)
  • Epstein Becker (23 attorneys and 30 staff
  • Faegre & Benson (29 attorneys)
  • Fish & Richardson (49 attorneys, 30 staff since November)
  • Goodwin Procter (38 attorneys and 36 staff)
  • Hinshaw & Culbertson (11 attorneys and 17 staff)
  • Hodgson Russ (5 attorneys and 8 staff)
  • Holland & Knight (70 attorneys and 173 staff)
  • Latham & Watkins (190 attorneys and 250 staff)
  • Lovells (94 staff)
  • Lowenstein Sandler (53 attorneys and staff)
  • Luce Forward Hamilton & Scripps (12 attorneys and 15 staff)
  • McDermott Will & Emery (60 attorneys and 89 staff)
  • Neal Gerber & Eisenberg (19 attorneys and 32 staff)
  • Nixon Peabody (20 attorneys and 36 staff)
  • Roetzel & Andress (13 attorneys and 18 staff)
  • Sheppard Mullin (25 attorney layoffs, in January and February)
If your law firm conducted layoffs in February and was not included on our list, please let us know so we can update our list accordingly.

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Why Companies Should Hire Attorneys During a Recession

There’s a lot of talk about needing to stay competitive during this recession, and companies that will set themselves apart are the ones who continue to invest in marketing their product, and who will reap the rewards later on. So then doesn’t it hold that companies should increase their investment in their talent during this time, too?

Companies who maintained or increased ad spend during the 1981-82 recession saw 256% higher sales than companies that decreased their budgets. And while I know ad spend and recruitment spend are different, it seems that the same logic applies: What you do now will determine your success in the future.

A recession is an opportunity for companies to hire the kind of outstanding legal talent they would be hard pressed to recruit during a normal economy. In the midst of layoff reports and high unemployment figures, is there any hiring going on? The answer is ‘yes’, and they primarily fall into the following categories:

  • The replacement of retiring or departing key legal counsels at small to mid-sized companies.
  • The replacement of legal counsel by management looking to “upgrade” their legal department.
  • 3. The augmentation of legal staff to handle increased work and minimize outside counsel fees.
A company operating with a sole general counsel who is retiring will seek a replacement. A high-tech company with a sole licensing attorney departing will need to hire a replacement counsel as well. Where companies have small legal staff and key personnel is departing, because of retirement or other reasons, replacements become a necessity. While natural attrition rates are lower than they were in the past, hovering at around 12%, there is still an active market for companies to take full advantage of the wealth of legal talent available to replace key legal functions.

Some larger companies with new management, or CEO’s taking a critical look at operations, are also looking at the current legal market as an opportunity to upgrade their in-house legal counsels, including their general counsels. These companies recognize this period of time as an opportunity to hire top-quality job candidates. Companies who may have fallen behind the talent rush in the past, should take heart from the global economic slowdown as it presents a golden opportunity for them to recruit qualified and experienced legal professionals from around the world. Today, they are seeing the market downturn as an opportunity to find top talent, and often hiring directly from their competitors. *

While corporate legal departments are “doing more with less,” companies are still considering the impact of bringing more work in-house to save money. According to a recent survey from legal market research firm Altman Weil Inc., about 65 percent of general counsel said that they would bring more work in-house to save money this year. Nationally, about 75 percent of general counsels plan to reduce legal budgets by about 11 percent in 2009 according to Altman Weil Inc. Does this mean that companies are not hiring? Not really.

While companies are dealing with tighter budgets and not hiring as aggressively as they would like, they are still able to carefully add headcounts where the work outweighs the cost of outsourcing, especially in areas like employment, licensing, and contract. It’s all about making the financial numbers add up.

* We personally know of 2 active general counsel searches at Fortune 500 companies that fall within this “upgrade and opportunity” category.

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Pillsbury Debacle: Can You Hear Me Now?

Have you ever sat next to some annoying person on the train having a cell phone conversation that everyone can hear? If you commute via public transportation, chances are the answer is ‘yes.’
Not only is this sort of behavior irritating, but I remember as a young attorney my partners cautioning me about working in public places or speaking on the phone about client matters outside the office. “Be very careful,” they said, “you need to think about confidentiality at all times.”

Imagine my surprise when I read a post on Above the Law this morning reporting that an unidentified tipster claimed to have overheard two top lawyers at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman discussing planned attorney layoffs in a loud cell phone conversation on a crowded train.

Pillsbury Winthrop confirmed the tip and issued the following statement Thursday morning: "We apologize for the unfortunate manner in which our deliberations about reductions have become public.”

What were they thinking?

The call apparently took place between Robert Robbins, head of the corporate and securities practice, and COO Richard Donaldson. Robbins reportedly named out loud at least some of the 15 to 20 attorneys the firm was talking about laying off in four offices by the end of March. The conversation apparently took place on an Amtrak train between Washington, D.C., and New York.

Worst yet, Robbins purportedly stressed how necessary it was to keep the layoff a secret. Well, when you are shouting it into a bluetooth, that’s just being ridiculous.

How about those poor 15-20 associates being laid off? I can only guess what they must be thinking. The callous and cavalier manner in which this was handled – on a commuter train, over the phone – just goes to show how little thought and importance the firm gave to these attorneys.

Perhaps Pillsbury Winthrop should rethink it’s numbers up by one; after all, low billable hours is one thing, poor judgment is quite another.

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Bright Prospects For New Wal-Mart General Counsel

On Friday, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. promoted Jeff Gearhart to general counsel and named former counsel Tom Mars as chief administrative officer.
Gearhart will oversee all legal matters for the company's domestic and international divisions. Gearhart joined Wal-Mart's legal department in 2003 and since 2007 has been senior vice president and deputy GC.

While it’s still unclear what Mars’ new position will look like – a mix of key human resource functions for the U.S. including diversity, compensation, talent development, and employment practices and policies, and compliance – he might have left an enviable position for Gearhart to step into.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. outperformed other retailers, releasing better-than-expected fourth-quarter earnings this past Tuesday. Wal-Mart has been one of the few bright spots in retailing as financially squeezed shoppers look for cheaper options and cut back to necessities during the recession (The Associated Press).

That said, the Company is hardly immune from economic pressures. Last week, Wal-Mart announced that it will cut up to 800 jobs at its headquarters as it makes changes, including cutting the number of new stores it will build this year. It's also cutting inventory. However, all things considered the retail giant is healthy and weathering the storm relatively unscathed.

Even the large class action lawsuits that beleaguered the retail giant is showing signs of going Wal-Mart's way. A federal appeals court gave Wal-Mart another chance Friday to derail the nation's largest-ever civil rights suit, a class action by 2 million past and present female employees who accuse the retail giant of discriminating in pay and promotions (The San Francisco Chronicle).

The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco said a majority of its judges had voted to grant Wal-Mart a new hearing in its appeal of rulings that have allowed the case to proceed as a nationwide class action, rather than as separate lawsuits by each woman who chooses to file one. An 11-judge panel will hear the case on a date yet to be scheduled (The San Francisco Chronicle).

In the original 2001 lawsuit filed in San Francisco, six female workers claimed Wal-Mart paid women less than men and give them fewer promotions.

Wal-Mart Executive Vice President and General Counsel Jeff Gearhart hailed the appeals court decision as a "positive step" in the litigation (Legal Newsline).

"It is important to note that the merits of this case have not been considered by the courts, and we believe the experiences alleged by the six individuals who brought this suit are not representative of the experiences of our female associates," Gearhart said in a statement (Legal Newsline).

Could things get any better for Gearhart? How about a sizeable compensation package that could reach into the seven figures? In this time of doom and gloom for most in-house counsels, it’s good to be Gearhart.

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Black Friday For Law Firm Staff and Attorneys….What About in-House?

By the end of Friday the 13th, more than 1,100 lawyers and staff in the U.S. had been fired or asked to consider buyouts.
It all began on Thursday afternoon, as one firm after the other lined up to announce layoffs. DLA Piper cut 180, including 80 lawyers. Goodwin Procter laid off 38 lawyers and a total of 74 positions. Dechert cut 19 lawyers' jobs. Bryan Cave cut 58 lawyers from its ranks along with 76 support staff roles. Holland & Knight made the deepest cut by laying off 243 employees, including 70 lawyers. Faegre & Benson cut 29 lawyers from its ranks, as did Epstein Becker and Green (53).

In total, in one dismal day in the US, more than 350 lawyers stood to lose their jobs...and more is likely on the way (See "Law Firm Layoffs: February 2009" for a full list).

Why now? Law firms are looking at grim balance sheets for the first quarter, lower than usual attrition numbers by attorneys holding on their jobs for dear life, a soon-to-start class of eager summer associates, and no signs of an immediate recovery despite Obama's Stimulus Package.

Are law firms making good choices with these massive layoffs? They are certainly saving money in the short run, by as much as $200K per attorney and $100K per staff members according to the Legal Times. Layoffs offer a fast solution with immediate bottom-line results.

However, in the long term they could ultimately work against these law firms' interest by costing the more. Layoffs increase pressures on remaining employees that affect productivity, create an atmosphere of uncertainty and low morale leading to more defections than intended, and leave companies vulnerable and ill equipped to take full advantage of opportunities when the economy picks up again.

Only two years ago, law firms were scrambling to hire top legal talent, and were raising base salaries to $160K to fight off hedge funds. Think things will be any different two years from now? Think again...

Of course, law firms are thinking about the here and now...not a year from now, and even less two years from now. Perhaps laid off attorneys or prospective law school students will have a better memory and look at those few firms that hired carefully, and refrained from mass layoffs during tough economic times. They will not be the ones offering the most attractive starting salary, or the biggest profit-per partner ratios.

What about corporate legal departments? They are hurting just as much, but the bleeding there is more akin to a small cut vein, rather than a fully severed artery. Why? Because corporate legal departments, despite massive company layoffs, are typically thinly staffed, and because for all the talk and chatter about law firm fees and the decline in demand for legal's still cheaper to do the work in-house, and there is still plenty of it to be done.

Why have we not seen a reported Friday the 13th for corporate legal departments? You probably have seen it, but not in so many words. As we reported in our November 2008 blog post titled "Corporate Legal Department Layoffs: The Market in 2008," what affects the market as a whole also affects legal departments. In other words, the big company layoffs typically translate into sizeable layoffs for in-house attorneys. While some companies have received specific publicity for their in-house attorney layoffs, the majority of corporate legal department layoffs are folded into overall company layoffs. They are not hurting any less; the wounds are just less noticeable.

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Looking for a Revenue Source: How About a Plaintiff’s Lawsuit?

Today, legal departments are looking for creative ways to cut costs, as well as generate revenues. How can you transform a legal department from a cost center to a revenue source? According to John F. Brown in a special article, you should sue.  To be specific, legal department should aggressively pursue "recovery initiatives," that is lawsuits aimed to right a business tort or an intellectual property infringement matter.
Do Recovery Initiatives Work?  In the case of Dupont's pursuit of a supplier pricing antitrust issue, the plaintiff lawsuit brought in an outstanding $500M in its first three years. (See "Plaintiff Thinking Can Grow You Bottom Line" by Thomas L. Sager, VP and AGC of DuPont Legal).
Should You Go Out There And Initiate Plaintiff Lawsuits?  Well, not so fast.  As Brown points out, other Fortune 500 companies have not been so lucky in their recovery efforts.  In an attempt to recover damages in a patent infringement matter, a Fortune 500 Chemical Company ultimately netted a zero recovery, spending well into the seven figures on hourly rate based-fees.
Brown warns companies about those pesky hourly fees that can easily spin out of control, and eat away at any recovery damages.  Should companies looking to cut cost hand over lawsuits to their hour-hungry outside counsels?  Probably not.  At least not until they have had a change to negotiate an appropriate fee structure to handle the litigation.  Brown discusses an "ideal model solution" that goes back to the heart of the hourly fee debate that has raged for years, but has never come to a full resolution.
That solution includes full transparency by law firms regarding risks and costs of the litigation, and aligning the interests of the client and counsel.  Easier said than done when the law firm's interest is in billing more hours, earning a larger fee, and stretching out the lawsuit for as long as possible, while the company's interest in is a time efficient and inexpensive resolution that will allow for damage recovery.
Obviously, some companies like DuPont have had success with their recovery initiatives.  I suspect that other companies with successful recoveries were also able to negotiate fee arrangements that helped in their success.  However, they are more likely to be the exception to the rule.
Brown suggests combining elements of hourly and contingency fee structures, including a "capped hourly basis" arrangement.  The proposition is sound and also work on certain types of transactional matters, allowing legal departments to save even more on outside legal fees. However, while law firms have paid a great deal of lip service about flexible fee arrangements, in truth few have been willing to go along with these types of propositions.  Will these tough economic times force law firms to actively reconsider their hourly fee structure?  Right now, all the signs seem to point to a "no" - most law firms have favored cutting costs by shedding lawyers and staff, and while revenues have generally been flat, they are still sizable. 
Before companies can seriously consider aggressive "recovery initiatives" as a source of revenue, law firms will first need to adjust their hourly fee structure.  If history is a predictor of future action, than it's not likely to happen any time soon.
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Is Changing One’s Practice Area During a Downturn a Good Idea?

"I have been practicing as a litigator for the last eight years with a law firm and I am ready to make a change. I am not interested in becoming a partner. Ideally I’d like to go in-house. I did a short internship with a company and I really enjoyed it. However, when I look around there are very few in-house litigation positions available. The one’s I have applied for have been so competitive that I’ve never come close to an offer. I am an accomplished litigator working for a big law firm, but I am not a Harvard law school partner with twenty years of trial experience. I am trying to transfer to a transactional practice to improve my chances of moving in-house. It’s nearly impossible to do at my firm as our own transactional attorneys have just enough work to sustain their practice, and I do not want to jeopardize my position there. I’ve tried to apply to more junior-level and temporary transactional positions with both law firms and companies, but I am being told either that I don't have sufficient experience, or that I am too qualified to take a junior role. I know the economy is not good, but what can I do to change practice areas?” Desperately Seeking New Practice.
At best, making a practice switch during a good economy can be challenging – making the switch during a bad economy can simply be a bad idea.
  • Are you sure you want to set aside eight years of litigation, just to improve your chances of going in-house?
  • Are you sure that a practice switch will help you secure an in-house position?
  • Has your short in-house exposure been sufficient for you to give up the law firm practice altogether?
  • How do you know that you will enjoy or be successful as a transactional attorney when you have not had any experience in this area?

Assuming you’ve considered some of these questions, and you are still ready to start over as a transactional attorney, there are a few other things to consider. Yes, the economy is not good, but even in the best of times “practice switchers” have a hard time making that transition.

Consider this: Why would anyone hire you in your chosen new practice area when they have hundreds of applicants with extensive practical experience in that field? Law firms are not known for being risk takers or for thinking outside the box when it comes to hiring. They are a business trying to maximize their profits, and when you consider the investment it takes to hire and train an associate, the return on this investment has to make sense. Given the choice, they will hire an experienced transactional attorney, or a junior attorney with some transactional experience, rather than an experienced litigator without any transactional experience.

What if I am willing to take a pay cut and take a junior-level position?

Your rationale makes sense - both the law firm and the clients would benefit from your years of experience as lawyer, even if practice-wise you were still a bit green. Unfortunately, the issue is not quite that simple.

There is the issue of training which can be expensive, and rocking the class boat which law firms are steering clear of. In other words, if you joined a firm as a junior associate, you would be given assignments to help you train as a transactional attorney. These would be relatively simple projects, or pieces of larger, more sophisticated deals.

But after a while, if you are as good as you should be at your level, you will not very challenged with these assignments. You will find yourself asking for more sophisticated work, more client contact, and more responsibility. Suddenly those loyal senior associates who have given their blood, sweat and tears to their firm for the past 8-10 years will see that there is yet one more person being pushed ahead of them. Their loyalty and perseverance will have been diminished by a comparatively newcomer to the firm. Morale is a fragile, an intangible element that law firms don’t like to tinker with, especially when they don't have to.

What about companies giving me a shot?

Corporate legal departments are not good training grounds. Companies that hire in-house counsels are looking for attorneys who are self-sufficient, who can work independently, with little support, and almost no supervision. This is not a place where you will be taught skills, or have much of an opportunity to learn from more senior counsel. It will be assumed that you are already skilled in your practice area, can handle all of the documentation and processes that come with it, and can now provide strategic advice to your company, and oversee the legal work of potentially more experienced outside counsels.

The economy makes a difference. During a downturn, it’s better to stay put.

Firms and corporate legal departments are shedding staff. Nobody likes to have to do that. Why would they take on someone from the outside to retrain when they could have one of their own to retrain, or get 100 resumes tomorrow of candidates who already have the practice experience they need? If you can think of an answer, that is your way in; if not, I fear your prospects are bleak.

In a competitive job market, attorneys who are looking to switch practice areas will have very few opportunities to do so, unless they are switching to a practice area where candidates are in short supply and demand is high. A transactional attorney looking to transition into bankruptcy, or a litigator looking to specialize in bankruptcy litigation may have better prospects. However, in a down economy like ours, there are very few practice areas where candidates are in short supply. And demand has never been lower.

If you are still doing well at your current firm, I would encourage you to wait for the market to turn before switching practice areas. If you are still convinced that changing discipline is the answer, then I would suggest taking training courses, and acquiring practical experience by getting involved in pro bono projects, or by volunteering your services to non-profits and legal aid organizations.

At least, by exploring ways to acquire practical experience, you will be able to determine whether this is something you enjoy and want to commit to when the market turns around. Moreover, you will have acquired some technical and practical skills, and hopefully be more competitive when opportunities present themselves. Good luck!

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Corporate Legal Department Layoffs: The Market in 2009 (February)

As we had predicted earlier, the nation's unemployment rate rose to a higher-than-expected 7.6 percent in January as businesses shed 598,000 jobs, the government says.

The economy has lost a staggering 3.6 million jobs since the start of the recession in December 2007. And, to underscore the accelerating nature of the problem, more than half of those job losses occurred in the in the past three months. As of the end of January 2009, a total 11.6 million were unemployed.

The official government estimates of the current unemployment problem are staggering.

  • 791,000 manufacturing jobs were lost in 2008, hitting the auto sector hardest.
  • 260,110 people lost jobs in the financial sector, part of the overall service sector that accounts for some 80% of all employment.
  • The construction sector shed 899,000 since peaking in September 2006.
  • The retail sector shed 522,000 jobs for all of 2008.

Those are the “official” government numbers. But, as a closer look demonstrates, the unemployment figures can be understated – and misleading. The government actually compiles unemployment figures in six different categories; as you might expect, the numbers tend to minimize the bad news.

Job hunters also are facing longer searches for work.

The average time it took for an unemployed person to find any job — full or part time — rose to 19.8 weeks in January, compared with 17.5 weeks a year ago, underscoring the increasing difficulty the out-of-work are having in finding a new job.

From December 2008 to January 2009, we saw layoffs increase from 108,123 to 162,962 at America's largest public companies. An increase of over 50,000, the majority of which were announced on "Black Monday," January 26th, by the following companies:
  • Caterpillar (20,000)
  • Pfizer (8,000)
  • Sprint Nextel (8,000)
  • Home Depot (7,000)
  • General Motors (2,000)
  • Microsoft/Intel (10,000)
Two corporate legal departments that have been in the news recently, Wyeth and Merrill Lynch, have been going forward with legal department layoffs - cutting into the highest levels, including GC's. Other legal departments who underwent publicized cuts in 2008 included Ford, which lost 32% of staff according to The Law Department Management Blog, and Home Depot, according to a piece by Katheryn Hayes Tucker on, Feb. 26, 2008, an estimated 80 lawyers according to a Feb. 26, 2008.

General Electric has also been quietly doing some bloodletting since the third quarter of 2008; and while the figures we have gathered are not official - as they have been culled from laidoff GE attorneys - we estimate that at least 20% of its legal department has been affected. Following its purchase by Wells Fargo, Wachovia has also suffered deep cuts in its legal department, somewhere in the 30-50% range.

The list of corporate legal department is most likely a long one, yet details of these layoffs are usually not publicized, and often difficult to obtain. While companies for the most part do not provide separate figures for their corporate legal department layoffs, company-wide layoffs usually affect in-house legal department as well.

As reported by Above the Law, Incisive Media also eliminated 42 positions last week. These layoffs were distributed across positions in both business and news departments in the entire company's North American units, which includes 31 legal and real estate publications. Legal media, and the media industry in general, have not been spared.

Have you been part of a corporate legal department layoff? Please share your stories, an help us keep an accurate tally.

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Law Firm Layoffs: February 2009 (2,000+)

As the economy continues to stall and dry up certain practice areas, firm managers are facing tough decisions. Law firms have responded by shedding staff, associates, and partners alike across the country.

We have updated the list if Am Law 200 law firms compiled by The American Lawyer, and included a few others (i.e Ice Miller, Wildman Harrold, Parker Poe, Fish & Richardson, Allen & Overy etc.) that have announced layoffs through February 2009. [We will continue to update this list regularly.]

But just how much do law firms stand to save by slashing ranks? A lot, as it turns out. According to The National Law Journal, law firm leaders and industry consultants say a firm cuts costs by an average of $250,000 for each attorney let go. For each legal assistant or other staffer laid off, a law firm saves about $100,000.

While firms may be enjoying instant savings - which are sometimes greatly reduced by the severance packages that come with layoffs - these same firms will be scrambling to rebuild what they have lost once the economy starts up again; and paying a heavy price, about $250,000for each attorney it attempts to replace (See our post "Alternatives to Slash & Burn Layoffs"). Apparently, most law firms today are more concerned about short-term remedies.

What about corporate legal department layoffs? See our Blog posts "Corporate Legal Department Layoffs: The Market in 2009 (December), and Corporate Legal Department Layoffs: The Market in 2009 (February)."

This list contains law firms who have begun layoffs in late 2008 through February 2009. This is by no means all-inclusive; if your law firm should be included on the list, please let us know.



  • Akin Gump
  • Allen & Overy
  • Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll
  • Baker & McKenzie
  • Bell Boyd & Lloyd
  • Bilzin Sumberg Baena Price & Axelrod
  • Bingham Mccutchen
  • Blank Rome
  • Brown Rudnick Berlack Israels
  • Bryan Cave
  • Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney
  • Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft
  • Cahill Gordon
  • Calfee, Halter & Griswold
  • Choate, Hall & Stewart
  • Clifford Chance
  • Cooley Godward
  • Cozen O'Connor
  • Day Pitney
  • Dechert
  • Dewey & Leboeuf
  • Dickstein Shapiro
  • DLA Piper
  • Drinker Biddle & Reath
  • Duane Morris
  • Epstein Becker
  • Faegre & Benson
  • Fenwick & West
  • Fish & Richardson
  • Foley Hoag
  • Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy
  • Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer
  • Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson
  • Goodwin Procter
  • Gunderson Dettmer
  • Heller Ehrman (dissolved)
  • Hinshaw & Culbertson
  • Hodgson Russ
  • Hogan & Hartson
  • Holland & Knight
  • Howrey
  • Hunton & Williams
  • Ice Miller
  • Jenner & Block
  • Katten Muchin Rosenman
  • Kaye Scholer
  • Kirkland & Ellis
  • Latham & Watkins
  • Linklaters
  • Loeb & Loeb
  • Lowenstein Sandler
  • Lovells
  • Luce, Forward, Hamilton & Scripps
  • Mayer Brown
  • McDermott Will & Emery
  • McKee Nelson
  • Milbank Tweed Hadley & McCloy
  • Moore & Van Allen
  • Morgan & Finnegan
  • Morgan Lewis & Bockius
  • Morrison & Foerster
  • Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg
  • O'Melveny & Myers
  • Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe
  • Parker Poe Adams & Bernstein
  • Patton Boggs
  • Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker
  • Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman
  • Pircher, Nichols & Meeks
  • Powell Goldstein
  • Proskauer Rose
  • Reed Smith
  • Ropes & Gray
  • Roetzel & Andress
  • Seyfarth Shaw
  • Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton
  • Shutts & Bowen
  • Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom
  • Simpson Thacher & Bartlett
  • Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal
  • Squire, Sanders & Dempsey
  • Sutherland Asbill & Brennan
  • Synnestvedt & Lechner
  • Taylor Wessing
  • Thatcher Profitt & Wood (dissolved)
  • Thelen Reid Brown Raysman & Steiner (dissolved)
  • Thompson Hine
  • White & Case
  • Wildman Harrold & Dixon
  • Wilson Sonsini Goodirch & Rosati
  • Winstead
  • Wolf Block



Akin Cuts 65 Support Staff
The National Law Journal
January 19, 2009

Allen & OVery Lay Off 2 Staff and 3 Associates
Above the Law
January 23, 2009

Baker Cuts 2o Lawyers in London
Above the Law
January 23, 2009

Baker & McKenzie Axes 6 in NY
Above the Law
June 8, 2008

Firms Continue to Scale Back Attorneys and Staff
The Legal Intelligencer
January 16, 2009

Law Firms See More Layoffs, Departures of Staff and Associates
The Legal Intelligencer
June 5, 2008

Chicago's Bell Boyd & Lloyd Lays Off 10 Associates
The National Law Journal
Nov. 3, 2008

Bell Boyd Confirms Layoffs
Above the Law
Oct. 30, 2008

Layoffs Confirmed this Month
The ABA Journal
Feb. 27, 2009

Bingham McCutchen Lays Off 10 Staff Members
The Wall Street Journal Law Blog
July 30, 2008

Bingham Lays Off San Francisco Bay Area Staff
The National Law Journal
May 21, 2008

Boston’s Foley Hoag Lays Off 32 Associates and Staff
Above the Law
Jan. 16, 2009

Law Firms See More Layoffs, Departures of Staff and Associates
The Legal Intelligencer
June 5, 2008

Boston-Based Brown Rudnick Lays Off 20 Lawyers, 20 Staff Members
The National Law Journal
November 21, 2008

58 Attorneys, 76 Staff at Bryan Cave Let Go
Above the Law
Feb. 12, 2009

Buchanan Ingersoll Makes More Staff Cuts
The Legal Intelligencer
Feb. 20, 2009

Buchanan Ingersoll to Cut Legal Secretaries, Administrative Staff
The Legal Intelligencer
November 24, 2008

Cadwalader Set to Cut Staff From London Office
Legal Week
Feb. 12, 2009

Cadwalader Laying Off 35 in Wake of Slumping Markets
New York Law Journal
Jan. 10, 2009

Cadwalader Lays Off 96 More Lawyers
The American Lawyer
July 30, 2008

Nationwide Layoff Watch: Cahill Gordon (12)
Above the Law
Jan. 12, 2009

3 More Cleveland Firms Cut Attorneys, Staff
The Plain Dealer
Feb. 19, 2009

Boston's Choate Hall Lays Off Lawyers, Staff
The National Law Journal
Jan. 27, 2009

CC Set to Lay Off Up to 80 Lawyers in the City
Legal Week
Jan. 8, 2009

With '01 in Mind, Law Firms Alter Layoff Strategy
The National Law Journal
Oct. 29, 2008

Cooley Axes 52 Lawyers, 62 Staff
The Recorder
Jan. 22, 2009

Cozen O'Connor Lays Off 61 Staff
The Recorder
Feb. 13, 2009

Layoffs Hit Conn. Law Firms (66)
The Connecticut Law Tribute
Feb. 20, 2009

Dechert Lays Off 19 Associates
The Am Law Daily
Feb. 12, 2009

Law Firms Eliminating Staff Members
Philadelphia Business Journal
Dec. 16, 2008

Dechert Chairman: Layoff Rumors Are 'Bull'
The Legal Intelligencer
Oct. 22, 2008

Layoffs Hit Dechert Following Record Financial Year
The Legal Intelligencer
Feb. 29, 2008

Dewey to Shutter San Francisco Office, Keep SiliconValey Presence
The Recorder
Feb. 4, 2009

Dewey & Leboeuf Parts Ways with L.A. Associates
Above the Law
Jan. 13, 2009

Dewey & LeBoeuf Closes Charlotte Office
Above the Law
Oct. 20, 2008

Dewey Stay or Dewey Go? D&L Decamps from Hartford, Austin, Jacksonville
Above the Law
April 4, 2008

Nationwide Layoff Watch: Dickstein Shapiro (10)
Above the Law
Jan. 8, 2009

DLA Piper Lays Off 80 Associates and 100 Staffers
The National Law Journal
Feb. 12, 2009

DLA Set to Cut Up to 140 in New Redundancy Round
Legal Week
Feb. 10, 2009

DLA Review Sees Five Lawyers Redundant
The Lawyer
Aug. 4, 2008

Law Firms Eliminating Staff Members
Philadelphia Business Journal
Dec. 16, 2008

Duane Morris Lays Off Additional Staff
The Legal Intelligencer
Aug. 22, 2008

Epstein Becker Lays Off 23 Attorneys and 30 Staff
The Recorder
Feb. 13, 2009

Faegre & Benson Lays Off 29 Attorneys
The Recorder
Feb. 13, 2009

Fenwick Cuts 36 Staff; Freeze Associate Salaries
The Silicon valley/San Jose Business Journal
Jan. 30, 2009

Lawyer Layoffs; 49 Have Left Since November
The Daily Law Journal
Feb. 2, 2009

I'm Shipping Up To Boston (32)
Above the Law
Jan. 14, 2009

Fragomen Del Rey Announces Associate Layoffs
The Am Law Daily
Nov. 21, 2008

Freshfields Lays Off Real Estate Associates
Legal Week
Sept. 22, 2008

Freshfields Lays Off Real Estate Associates
Legal Week
Sept. 22, 2008

Fried Frank Trimming ‘Less Than 10 Percent’ of Firm’s Staff
The Wall Street Journal Law Blog
Aug. 20, 2008

Goodwin Procter Lays Off 38 Associates and 36 Staff
The Recorder
Feb. 13, 2009

Gunderson Axes 8 Associates
The Recorder
Dec. 18, 2008

Big Wave of Layoffs Hits Heller
The Recorder
Oct. 17, 2008

Mass Layoffs at Heller
The Recorder
Oct. 13, 2008

Chicago-Based Firm Joins Long List of Midsized Firms Making Cuts (28)
The National Law Journal
Feb. 6, 2009

Mass Layoffs at Heller
The Recorder
Oct. 13, 2008

Firm Cuts 5 Associates and 8 Staff
Business First of Buffalo
Feb. 3, 2009

Hogan & Hartson Offers Buyouts to 240 Staffers
The National Law Journal
Feb. 10, 2009

Hogan & Hartson Offers Buyout of 250-300 Staff
Above the Law
Feb. 9, 2009

Holland & Knight Lays Off 243 Employees
Daily Business Review
Feb. 12, 2009

South Florida Law Firms Feel the Real Estate Slump
The National Law Journal
May 29, 2008

Nationwide Layoff Watch: Howrey Lets 10 People Go for 'Performance'
Above the Law
Dec. 10, 2008

Hunton & Williams to Redeploy Charlotte Associates
The American Lawyer
May 16, 2008

Squire Sanders and Ice Miller Lay Off Staffers
The National Law Journal
May 16, 2008

Jenner & Block Shows 10 Partners the Door
The National Law Journal
Oct. 21, 2008

Layoffs Hit Attorneys, Staff at Katten and Sonnenschein Firms
The National Law Journal
Oct. 20, 2008

Kaye Scholer Trims Five Secretaries
The Wall Street Journal Law Blog
Jan. 21, 2009

Kirkland & Ellis Fires Non-Equity Partners (10)
Above The Law
Jan. 7, 2009

Legal Recruiters Say Kirkland & Ellis May Lay Off 15 or More Attorneys
The National Law Journal
Jan. 9, 2009

Latham to Cut 190 Associates, 250 Staff
The American Lawyer
Feb. 27, 2009

Linklaters Set to Make Job Cuts in Stockholm
Legal Week
Feb. 6, 2009

Linklaters Review Set to Claim up to 270 Jobs
Legal Week
Jan. 29, 2009

Loeb & Loeb Layoffs Round 2
Above The Law
January 12, 2009

Loeb & Loeb Cuts Eight Associates
The National Law Journal
November 11, 2008

Nationwide (Stealth) Layoff Watch: Shearman & Sterling and Loeb & Loeb
Above The Law
November 10, 2008

Loeb & Loeb Cuts Eight Associates
The National Law Journal
November 11, 2008

Layoffs Confirmed this Month
The ABA Journal
Feb. 27, 2009

Lovells to Cut Up to 94 Jobs in Staffing Review
Legal Week
Feb. 9, 2009

Luce Forward Lays Off 27
The Recorder
Feb. 6, 2009

Mayer Brown Lays Off 33 Lawyers
Legal Times
November 21, 2008

McDermott, Will & Emery Lays Off 60 Attorneys, 89 Staffers
The National Law Journal
Feb. 4, 2009

McKee Nelson Lays Off Attorneys and Staff; Co-Founder Optimistic
The Wall Street Journal Law Blog
Nov. 3, 2008

McKee Nelson Lays Off 17 Associates
New York Law Journal
Nov. 4, 2008

Is Milbank Setting Up For Stealth Layoffs? Not According to Milbank
Above the Law
Jan. 13, 2009

Milbank Didn't Fire 'All' Its Staff Attorneys
Above the Law
April 18, 2008

Moore & Van Allen Lays Off 20 Staff Members
Above the Law
Oct. 15, 2008

Nationwide Layoff Watch: Morgan & Finnegan
Above the Law
Aug. 21, 2008

Morgan Lewis Lays Off Associates; Numbers Could Reach 50
Above the Law
Jan. 28, 2009

200 Lose Job at Foerster & Morrison
The Recorder
Jan. 29, 2009

Neal Gerb Lay Off 19 Attorneys and 32 Staff
The Chicago Tribune
Feb. 24, 2009

O'Melveny Cuts Associate, Staff Headcount
The National Law Journal
Oct. 27, 2008

Nationwide Layoff Watch: O'Melveny & Myers
Above the Law
Oct. 23, 2008

Orrick to Trim About 40 Lawyers, 35 Staff--“Unrelated to Performance”
The Wall Street Journal Law Blog
Nov. 13, 2008

Orrick's Baxter: In This Economy, No Practice Area is So Robust it's Bursting at the Seams
The Am Law Daily
Nov. 13, 2008

Orrick Lays Off Associates, Staff
The Recorder
Nov. 13, 2008

NC’s Parker Poe Lays Off 13 Lawyers
Triangular Business Journal
Jan. 9, 2009

Pain at Patton Boggs
Texas Lawyer
July 2, 2008

Paul Hastings Denies Reports of Layoffs
The American Lawyer
May 12, 2008

Pillsbury Offers ‘Voluntary Departure Plan’ to Lawyers
Above the Law
Feb. 24, 2009

Pillsbury Confirms Layoff Leak (15-20)
The Recorder
Feb. 20, 2009

More About Pillsbury Winthrop (but at Least They Get iPhones!)
Above the Law
July 16, 2008

Pillsbury Winthrop Axes 15 in California?
Above the Law
July 14, 2008

75 Lawyer Pircher Lays Off 8 Attorneys, 4 Staff
The National Law Journal
Dec. 18, 2008

Powell Goldstein Associates, Staff Feel the Pinch of Layoffs
Fulton County Daily Report
June 23, 2008

Proskauer Cuts 60 People
Above The Law
Dec. 4, 2008

Law Firms See More Layoffs, Departures of Staff and Associates
The Legal Intelligencer
June 5, 2008

Reed Smith Cans Staff, Associates, 'And Your Little Dog Too'
Above The Law
Dec. 4, 2008

Law Firms See More Layoffs, Departures of Staff and Associates
The Legal Intelligencer
June 5, 2008

Ropes & Gray Cuts 106 Staff Positions; 10 Percent of Nonlawyer Staff
The National Law Journal
Jan. 30, 2009

Staff Layoff Watch: Ropes & Gray Lays Off 106 Employees
Above The Law
Jan. 29, 2009

3 More Cleveland Firms Cut Attorneys, Staff
The Plain Dealer
Feb. 19, 2009

Seyfarth Bucks Trend, Publicly Announces Layoffs
Dec. 12, 2008

Seyfarth Shaw Lays Off 30 Attorneys
Above the Law
Dec. 5, 2008

Nationwide Layoff Watch: Seyfarth Shaw
Above the Law
July 10, 2008

25 Layers Let Go Since January
The ABA Journal
Feb. 24, 2009

South Florida Law Firms Feel the Real Estate Slump
The National Law Journal
May 29, 2008

Simpson Thacher Denies Layoffs Report
The American Lawyer
Aug. 12, 2008

Latest Layoffs: Skadden Staff Attorneys & 65 Akin Gump Staff, Among Otherst
Above the Law
Jan. 20, 2009

Sonnenschein To Shutter Charlotte, NC Office (11 attorneys and 8 staff)
The American Lawyer
February 27, 2009

Layoffs Hit Attorneys, Staff at Katten and Sonnenschein Firms
The National Law Journal
Oct. 20, 2008

Sonnenschein Announces Layoffs -- More Than 100 Legal, Nonlegal Jobs Cut
The American Lawyer
May 28, 2008

Squire Sanders and Ice Miller Lay Off Staffers
The National Law Journal
Jan. 21, 2009

Squire Sanders Asks 30 Associates, Paralegals to 'Explore Opportunities Elsewhere'
The National Law Journal
November 21, 2008

Sutherland Trims Associate Ranks
Fulton County Daily Report
April 30, 2008

IP Boutique's Fall Is Fox Rothschild's Gain
The American Lawyer
Aug. 27, 2008

Taylor Wessing Becomes Latest Firm to Cut Jobs
Legal Week
Oct. 31, 2008

Thacher Proffitt Announces Expected Dissolution
Blog of Legal Times
December 22, 2008

Thacher Proffitt Loses Half its Lawyers as 100 Jump to Sonnenschein
The New York Times
December 22, 2008

Thelen Lays Off 26 Associates, 85 Staffers
The Recorder
March 20, 2008

3 More Cleveland Firms Cut Attorneys, Staff
The Plain Dealer
Feb. 19, 2009

White & Case Lays Off 70 Associates
The Am Law Daily
Nov. 11, 2008

Nationwide Layoff Watch: White & Case Brings Layoffs into the Vault Top 20
Above The Law
Nov. 11, 2008

Divorce, Italian Style
The American Lawyer
Oct. 24, 2008

Wildman Harrold Axes 10 Attorneys
Above the Law
Jan. 9, 2009

Wilson Sonsini Lays Off 45 Associates, 68 Support Staff
National Law Journal
Jan. 27, 2009

Winstead to Lay Off 20 in Dallas Office
The Dallas Morning News
Feb. 14, 2008

Law Firms Eliminating Staff Members
Philadelphia Business Journal
Dec. 16, 2008

Nationwide Layoff List: Wolf Block Fires 15 Associates and Staff
Above the Law
Dec. 15, 2008

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Moving Up: Taking Control Of Your Career In a Gloomy Job Market

In a gloomy job market, taking control of your career can make all the difference. Inside Counsel asked in-house lawyers and career experts to share their most valued tips. Here is their best advice on how to set yourself apart and jump-start your professional life.
The In-house Experts:
  • Art Chong, general counsel of Broadcom Corp.
  • Jed Hendrick, partner at Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge and former general counsel of Dennison Manufacturing and H.P. Hood.
  • Vanessa McKenzie, business development manager (and former in-house lawyer) at Caterpillar Inc.
  • Laurie Robinson, assistant general counsel at CBS Corp. and founder/CEO of Corporate Counsel Women of Color.
  • Stephen Seckler, managing director of legal recruiter BCG Search.
  • Joe Takash, president and founder of Victory Consulting.
  • Vanessa Vidal, president of in-house search firm ESQ Recruiting.
  • Michele Welsh, senior counsel at Aon Corp.


The more you know your company, the more you will know what it wants, what it needs, where it’s going, where it’s been and what it’s asking for.

"The better you understand your business, the more confidence your client will have in you," says McKenzie, an in-house lawyer who got to know her business so well she eventually went over to the business side. McKenzie advocates getting to know your business "from the ground up" by, for instance, taking facility tours and sitting in on as many business meetings as possible.

Chong offers similar advice to young lawyers, suggesting they constantly grow their knowledge of the business. He adds, "I wouldn’t limit [knowledge] to the business of the company in which they’re working but deeper understanding of the rhythm of business in general."

Whether that means taking business courses, developing relationships with businesspeople or devouring the Wall Street Journal every morning, find what works for you and do it.

"The key is to develop business skills that increase your value to the company," Vidal says. "Having the flexibility to learn new skills, particularly business skills, is very important. You need to keep reinventing yourself to keep your job challenging and make yourself that much more attractive and available for more opportunities."


There is no shortage of lawyers in this world. But the ability and willingness to step up and exceed expectations is rare, and those are the qualities that set apart the top tier of in-house lawyers.

"Understand that you do not add value by just being an excellent lawyer," Robinson says. "That is expected. You add value by doing what is not in your job description. Sometimes it is the very small things that are not already being done that fill a void in your company and in your community."

General counsel, hiring managers and recruiters seek out leaders, so if you can’t lead, you’ll eventually find yourself crowded out by those who can—even if your technical skills are the gold standard. For staff attorneys who feel like they are led more than they lead, fret not: Even if you’re on the lower rungs of the in-house ladder, you can still develop and showcase your leadership skills.

"People often mistake management for leadership," Chong says. "Leadership is a function of your commitment to the task and passion for the job, and that does have the ability to inspire. That’s leadership, and that’s how you get ahead, more so than the cumulative number of bodies you’re managing."

Another part of stepping up is accepting responsibility and its potential consequences. "A lot of in-house counsel like to pass the buck to the outside firm when it comes to making a decision. [Instead,] defend it and take responsibility for it," Hendrick says.


When Hendrick was a GC, he sought in his employees the ability to interact on a peer-to-peer level with business managers—or, as he puts it, being able to walk the walk and talk the talk.

"You always have to prove you’re the best lawyer in the room, but if you can add to that another dimension of really being able to talk the business and understand it in the business context, I think that’s what sets good business lawyers apart," he says.

So speak in the context and language of business, not the law, and communicate clearly. Take it from a nonlawyer: Takash has two attorney brothers who often speak in legalese, frustrating the family. If a brother can get fed up with a lawyer’s inability to communicate on a human level, imagine how your client feels.

"Attorneys have to understand that there’s anxiety and/or uneasiness in the potential consequences of why they are coming to [the client]," Takash says. "Being a human who can empathize and show compassion to me creates a complete lawyer."

And don’t forget that communication goes both ways. Listen to your clients, be open to suggestions and make sure you understand each other, Takash says. "Telling is just data-dumping. The good lawyers teach."


"Will you take on this terrifying project? It’s something you’ve never done before, it doesn’t play to your strengths, and you’ll probably mess up somewhere along the way."

Such requests are never so blatant, but if you have the courage to try something new, it could turn into the best learning experience of your life.

"You might stumble, but you also have an opportunity to stretch and grow," Chong says. "Don’t stay within your comfort zone just because you’re good at something—take the chance of doing something you’re either unfamiliar with or not so good at, so you can grow."

Such moves can be just as valuable when they take place outside the legal department. Robinson took such a leap when she decided to start Corporate Counsel Women of Color—a move that bettered her legal career as well as her professional life generally. "I did not take one course on how to start your own business or how to create or run a non-profit," she says. "I jumped in and was able to do it by instinct. I learned so much and still continue to learn."


"You’re as likely if not more likely to find a position by talking to a business person as you are by looking at classified ad listings or talking to a recruiter," Seckler says. "In fact, I think those more traditional job search strategies are not as likely to be as effective unless they’re combined with a heavy dose of networking and getting out in the community and meeting professionals."

You shouldn’t reserve networking for looking for an exit out of your current company—networking within your own company can help you do your job better and more smoothly and thus stand out to your superiors or even grab the attention of a business unit.

"Within Caterpillar, you’d want to network more with business folks and the attorneys in the entire legal organization because those are your resources," McKenzie says. "And the more you know them and develop a relationship with them, you get quicker responses. You can just call them up and ask quick questions—you just get things done more quickly."


The wisest people know they don’t know much, and the same is true for the best lawyers.

Every situation is an opportunity to learn—even
the routine projects you’ve done a thousand times before. Welsh reminds herself constantly that she can learn from everything and everybody, setting her up for future success.

"Even when I do confidentiality agreements all day, every day, when I go about doing a new one it’s with a new person, or there could be a new industry I learn about or just a new interaction from which I gain something. Squeeze out of every experience the actual, real knowledge," she says. "Don’t fall asleep on the job. Build your skill set, so that by the time you get to where it is you want to go, you’re that much more of an attractive applicant."

If you’ve got your sights set on the GC spot, you should aim to have knowledge across the board—companies will look for people with experience that ranges from antitrust to tax, from litigation to labor and employment. And depending on the company, it could expect you to have knowledge about specialty fields like technology and environmental law.

"Make sure you’re constantly adding to your package of skills as you move along in your career so that you’ve done any number of different things by the time you may be considered to be a general counsel," Hendrick says.


You don’t pay the membership fee to bar associations and other professional organizations just for the after-work cocktail parties and conferences in vacation-worthy locales. Exposure to and participation in such groups can be invaluable to your career and overall skill set.

Robinson says the professional benefits are twofold. Involvement gives an opportunity to network and share best practices with other professionals and to build leadership and organizational skills you may not be getting on the job.

Of course, you only get back what you put in. Taking a leadership role within an organization will pay off more than simply showing up at meetings. Robinson’s involvement goes above and beyond. In 2004 she founded a professional organization, Corporate Counsel Women of Color (CCWC), to empower female attorneys and foster diversity in the legal profession. She credits the experience of being CEO of CCWC with helping her become a more well-rounded professional and contribute more value to the CBS legal department.

And it’s paid off, as evidenced by Robinson’s recent promotion from assistant general counsel of CBS’s television division to assistant general counsel of the parent company—a role the company created for her.

"Through the years, CCWC has helped me to develop into a multidimensional person," Robinson says. "I am able to function in many other areas that are not necessarily law-related, such as marketing, public relations, publishing, sales, fundraising, product development, branding, production and programming."



McKenzie was doing M&As in private practice when she began to realize she might be better suited for the business side of things. “Operating at [a broader] level is more fulfilling for me than drafting a document and worrying about commas,” she says.

She eased into things by first joining the legal department at Caterpillar, which came with the enviable perk of a fully paid University of Chicago MBA. After a few years of doing M&As in the Cat law department, she was familiar with the pulse of the company and many of its business people. Eventually, she was tapped for a business role by her current boss, another former Cat lawyer.

“There are whole vistas of opportunities that open up once you go in-house,” Chong says. “In-house lawyers go on to become CEOs, CFOs, run business units.”

And given the limited number of legal spots at the top, a temporary jaunt on the business side could set you apart.

“I have seen a lot of attorneys transition from legal to the business side and back into legal just to try to make that upward movement happen,” Vidal says.


The historical view of going in-house is that it’s a one-way ticket that essentially closes a lawyer’s book of business and thus forecloses a return to a law firm career. But these days, as the role of in-house counsel has become more enmeshed with business decisions, the trend is shifting.

“There are increasing numbers of attorneys who are finding that their careers can go full circle,” Vidal says. “They’ve seen it from the other side, they understand what clients really want, and they have made more connections on the business side than they would have at the firm.”

She notes that in-house counsel develop a technical expertise that only a lawyer fully enmeshed in a company’s business can have. Still, the transition is rare and usually reserved for the more senior levels—a GC becoming a partner, for example.

“Few people try going from in-house to outside, and even fewer succeed at it,” Hendrick says. “It’s just very difficult for some people to start a business after having one company being their sole source of business for so long. Don’t try doing what I did unless you’ve got a good appetite for risk.”

With the economy faltering and the job market suffering accordingly, few are willing to give up perfectly good, secure jobs. So spots will be limited—further exacerbating the biggest hurdle to in-house advancement: the pyramid structure of most legal departments.

“Less movement means fewer opportunities, and that’s certainly a lot truer when you’re looking at in-house opportunities for advancement,” Vidal says. “A lot of the times the best chance for advancement may be jumping to a legal department of another company, but in this case it’s going to be much more challenging simply because you’re not going to see other people making those same moves.”

But rather than becoming discouraged by the shaky job market, seize the challenge as an opportunity. “In today’s economy there are a lot of things we can’t control, "Takash says. “The ability to provide breakthrough service is something we can.”

Takash also says networking becomes more important in tough times. “The folks surviving are the ones who made the investment in networking connections,” he says. “When their ship goes down, they have someplace else to go.”


No matter how much an in-house lawyer wants to move up in the world, it’s nearly impossible to thrive as a lawyer without support from the top. GCs and other leaders in the legal department are in a unique role to mentor and encourage their employees to broaden and deepen their knowledge of the business and the role of the legal department within it.

“I encourage [law department leaders] to spend as much time mentoring and teaching as possible, because you learn by teaching,” Chong says. “And the way you advance the success of your organization is to advance the people who are working for you. Do not give short shrift to the development of your people.”

If you’re not getting that support, asking for it can be surprisingly successful. Vidal advocates being proactive about getting support from the higher echelons. Being open with higher-ups not only will help you thrive in your current position, it could help you find the next.

“Develop a career plan and share it with executives and your GC,” she says. “It’s really important to discuss your career aspirations with your current employer so they’re aware what opportunities you might be interested in.”

Many lawyers find their jobs through legal recruiters, one way or another—either longstanding relationships or out-of-the-blue calls. But some experts insist they’re not the last word in finding the perfect in-house job. While working with recruiters can’t hurt, there are limitations.

“Recruiters are part of the strategy, but in reality when it comes to in-house jobs, unlike in law firms, companies don’t all use search firms for filling their legal positions,” Seckler says.

“Furthermore, while in any given geography most of the major recruiting firms will be aware of the openings at all of the major law firms, in terms of in-house jobs, that’s not true. Different search firms will have different openings, so you wouldn’t want to work with just one search firm.”

While the highest positions of legal departments are more often filled using headhunters, such recruiters tend to act as gatekeepers, so it could be hard to establish a relationship with them. Be an exemplary lawyer and try to set yourself apart, and when they want you, they’ll
make the first move.

“I’ve heard a recruiter on a panel say, ‘Don’t call us, we’ll call you,’” Chong says. “To which someone replied, ‘How will you know who we are if we don’t call you?’ He said, ‘Well, that’s our job.’”

Download a PDF of the story, with side bars included, by clicking here, and read more career advice from the experts by clicking here.

[By Melissa Maleske. Published in the 2/1/2009 Issue of Inside Counsel. Reprinted with Inside Counsel's permission.]

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