Currently Big Law - Should I Pursue This In-House Opportunity?

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CedarRams
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Currently Big Law - Should I Pursue This In-House Opportunity?

Post by CedarRams »

Hi,
I could use some bogleheads advice. I am in my early 50's in a Counsel role in Big Law for the last 16 years or so. I was lucky to get into big law and do not have the pedigree of many other Big Law lawyers. I have a niche specialty in litigation and have always thought that the floor would fall out beneath me at this firm, but I have somehow managed to survive. It is as if I am hanging on to a pull-up bar and I have to keep adjusting my grip or I will fall (fail). In terms of work, my matters are slowing down and I will need to start looking for a new projects / matters in the next 6 months or so. As many of you know, if you can't keep yourself busy in Big Law, you won't be around for long. You alone are responsible for keeping yourself busy.

A former colleague just reached out and asked if I wanted to join him in-house (fortuitous timing?). The role is at a private software company that is well-established. I will be primarily drafting commercial agreements, with some IP-related work. It is a very small legal department (only a few lawyers) so this will not be the type of facilitator role that some in-house lawyers enjoy. I don't think I will be able to punt my work to an outside firm. This will be a steep learning curve for me because I have more experience in big litigation and not a lot of experience drafting commercial agreements or with IP issues. It's funny because when I saw this job posted, I thought about reaching out to the former colleague about it, but I talked myself out of it because the work (drafting agreements) has not been in my wheel-house.

Some pros and cons of the potential move:
Pros
1. I have always wanted to go in-house; I have tried to go in-house before without luck. Here is my opportunity.
2. I will have a valued new skill-set in drafting commercial agreements. After two years if I want to go in-house somewhere else, I think it will be a lot easier will this new skill set. So many in-house jobs are for those with commercial drafting experience. My litigation niche is not really marketable. If I ever lose my job in Big Law, I think I would have a very hard time getting hired to do what I do anywhere near the salary I am being paid.
3. The software company has a good mission -- I really like what they do and what they have to offer.


Cons
1. I will take a 50 - 60 % paycut. My wife makes a very good salary and has a very stable job that she loves so this doesn't matter as much in the grand scheme of things, but money is important because I would like to retire when we have enough (maybe in 5 to 10 years -- hard to say when we will have enough). Also, while my wife loves her job, I worry about her being able to keep up the pace of her job. So while her job is very stable and I could just opt to be a stay at home dad and not keep our nanny, I don't know that I would be comfortable with that stay at home role.
2. The steep learning curve worries me. I think the first year would be very difficult getting up to speed and would require a lot of evenings and weekends and I have found that it is a lot harder for me to put in those hours that I did 10 - 15 years ago.
3. I work from home most days now. I didn't ask if I could work from home, but as a new employee, I would plan to go in every day to get to know folks, make a good impression, learn the job. I love working from home and would miss it tremendously.
4. I would potentially lose a significant bonus due at the end of June. The new company would want me to start fairly soon as they are swamped and to receive my bonus I would not be able to give notice until July 1 which means I am at the Big Law job until mid-July. We have a two week vacation planned in August. The colleague recruiting me is swamped and needs the help now because an attorney just left. I would feel awkward starting in mid to late July and then two weeks in taking a two week vacation (but the August vacation is firm and I can't change that)
5. I have a team and relationships that back me up in Big Law. If I need help with something, I can often find someone to help me. I don't think I will have that in the in-house role because the legal department is so small. There are two equity partners at my firm who have had my back at the firm and one of them in particular has been a great source of work.

I am split in terms of what to do and could use some insight from some fellow Bogleheads. I have read so much great advice on this board.

Best,
CedarRam
mkc
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Re: Currently Big Law - Should I Pursue This In-House Opportunity?

Post by mkc »

A very similar recent topic with good information/discussion viewtopic.php?p=6673201
ShowMeTheER
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Re: Currently Big Law - Should I Pursue This In-House Opportunity?

Post by ShowMeTheER »

I think you’re giving up too much at this time, between salary, comforts of WFH and bonus.

I’d say tell former colleague that timing just isn’t working out and you’d be interested to check back in 90 days from now to see if the role is still available.

By that time, you may determine that you are ready to be done with Big Law regardless.
Topic Author
CedarRams
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Re: Currently Big Law - Should I Pursue This In-House Opportunity?

Post by CedarRams »

Thanks, it does seem like I am giving up too much right now. Appreciate the thoughts.
Zeno
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Re: Currently Big Law - Should I Pursue This In-House Opportunity?

Post by Zeno »

Dear CedarRams:

I would take a hard look at your finances. Namely, if you took a significant pay cut and your spouse lost her job, could you still make it work?

Against that backdrop, if I were you I would take this opportunity in a heartbeat, mainly for the reasons you articulated above.

I’d also note that we are likely heading into a recession. Corporate law departments likely will be cutting back over the next 24 months. I did the boutique move during the GFC when I sensed my legal practice was going to be gutted by cut backs by in-house counsel who were slashing costs. Do you think you can attract new business in a recession? Will your current clients be cutting their litigation budgets? If your niche is bankruptcy, you could be golden. If not, well ….

Z
Last edited by Zeno on Sun May 22, 2022 1:55 am, edited 3 times in total.
Topic Author
CedarRams
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Re: Currently Big Law - Should I Pursue This In-House Opportunity?

Post by CedarRams »

Thanks, Zeno. Appreciate this advice. If my spouse lost her job and I took this in-house opportunity we could still make it work -- we would just have to watch our spending but I think we'd be fine.
Topic Author
CedarRams
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Re: Currently Big Law - Should I Pursue This In-House Opportunity?

Post by CedarRams »

mkc wrote: Sat May 21, 2022 5:39 pm A very similar recent topic with good information/discussion viewtopic.php?p=6673201
thanks for this old post -- it was very helpful.
Big Dog
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Re: Currently Big Law - Should I Pursue This In-House Opportunity?

Post by Big Dog »

Zeno wrote: Sat May 21, 2022 6:03 pm Dear CedarRams:

I would take a hard look at your finances. Namely, if you took a significant pay cut and your spouse lost her job, could you still make it work?

Against that backdrop, if I were you I would take this opportunity in a heartbeat, mainly for the reasons you articulated above.

I’m a former BigLaw partner. By age 46, I sensed my career was on the ropes, so I downshifted to a boutique (50% cut in draw). That boutique lasted about 4 years, and I exited to academia at age 50 (about a 30% cut in pay) where I remain (current age 58). You know the BigLaw culture and you alone know your economics. I always wanted to be in control of my next step instead of being shown the door involuntarily, even if that meant a cut in pay.

We could do the above because we were debt free and FI by our late 40’s.

Z
Transitioning from Lit to in-house can be difficult but you have a colleague that knows you and is willing to work with you to make that transition happen.

Agree with Z. (And for the added reason, is that I see a recession coming, and keeping busy will become more challenging.)
Topic Author
CedarRams
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Re: Currently Big Law - Should I Pursue This In-House Opportunity?

Post by CedarRams »

Thanks Big Dog. Things are slowing for others at the firm too so you may be right about the recession.
ragstochamois
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Re: Currently Big Law - Should I Pursue This In-House Opportunity?

Post by ragstochamois »

Being an effective commercial counsel requires a certain amount of exposure and/or mentorship in order to learn, at a minimum, industry-specific customs and practices, and that's assuming a decent background in the basics of drafting.

It's hard to see you getting the kind of support you need to develop your skills from a small team that's underwater and looking for immediate contributions. So I personally see this going two ways: either you will be asked to perform at a level that exceeds your abilities, or the company isn't expecting much in the way of substantive contributions and instead wants you to be the equivalent of a junior associate at a firm and spend the majority of your time inputting changes, running redlines, and handling signature pages.

Neither scenario seems ideal to me. That said, if you've previously gotten stonewalled when trying to make the move in-house that suggests there's something on your resume that recruiters don't like, and getting an in-house position through a connection may be the only opportunity for you to make the switch.

So if you think there's a decent chance of you losing your Big Law position and not having anywhere else to turn in the near future, I'd think about it. Otherwise I think there are a lot of other in house positions that would present an upgrade over this one: less of a pay cut, bigger team, more mentorship opportunities, work more in alignment with your skillset, etc.
Buglaw
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Re: Currently Big Law - Should I Pursue This In-House Opportunity?

Post by Buglaw »

I’m 9 years out with 6 years big law and I’m an associate general counsel at a similar sounding firm. I don’t really do commercial contracts as that is the rung down below me. In addition to the other points, this job just isn’t senior enough for you. Moving will be tough in the future. I’d be concerned about hiring you at my company because I’d be concerned about how someone with so much more big law experience than me would feel about sitting below me in the hierarchy. I’d recommend you don’t take this job unless you have to.
Topic Author
CedarRams
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Re: Currently Big Law - Should I Pursue This In-House Opportunity?

Post by CedarRams »

ragstochamois wrote: Sat May 21, 2022 6:32 pm Being an effective commercial counsel requires a certain amount of exposure and/or mentorship in order to learn, at a minimum, industry-specific customs and practices, and that's assuming a decent background in the basics of drafting.

It's hard to see you getting the kind of support you need to develop your skills from a small team that's underwater and looking for immediate contributions. So I personally see this going two ways: either you will be asked to perform at a level that exceeds your abilities, or the company isn't expecting much in the way of substantive contributions and instead wants you to be the equivalent of a junior associate at a firm and spend the majority of your time inputting changes, running redlines, and handling signature pages.

Neither scenario seems ideal to me. That said, if you've previously gotten stonewalled when trying to make the move in-house that suggests there's something on your resume that recruiters don't like, and getting an in-house position through a connection may be the only opportunity for you to make the switch.

So if you think there's a decent chance of you losing your Big Law position and not having anywhere else to turn in the near future, I'd think about it. Otherwise I think there are a lot of other in house positions that would present an upgrade over this one: less of a pay cut, bigger team, more mentorship opportunities, work more in alignment with your skillset, etc.
I think you hit the nail on the hear re: being asked to perform at a level that exceeds my current abilities -- that is a major concern. I think I can get there with time and hard work, but it will not be easy. As to something on my resume that recruiters don't like, my guess is a couple of things: 1) I am not in the sweet spot of 5 - 8 years out of law school when one is most attractive; and 2) I haven't necessarily spent time on building up my resume / linkedin profile, etc. with articles, certifications, etc. Appreciate the insights.
smatter
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Re: Currently Big Law - Should I Pursue This In-House Opportunity?

Post by smatter »

In house department leader here.

In house hiring is nearly impossible right now. There are simply not are enough qualified candidates, and big law has increased salaries to the point where it’s nearly a 50% pay cut in almost all circumstances. Yes, I think we all think is a recession is coming, but that simply doesn’t solve for the problems we have today.

Your former colleague senses that you might be a good investment (your comments here certainly suggest you would be), but there’s definitely something in it for them as well…

I agree with others that this will be a hard transition for you and unless your former colleague is someone you know will be 125% invested in your success and is going to spend lots of time helping you settle into role, I’d at the very least pause a bit before jumping off the train you are on.
Last edited by smatter on Sat May 21, 2022 6:55 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Topic Author
CedarRams
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Re: Currently Big Law - Should I Pursue This In-House Opportunity?

Post by CedarRams »

Buglaw wrote: Sat May 21, 2022 6:47 pm I’m 9 years out with 6 years big law and I’m an associate general counsel at a similar sounding firm. I don’t really do commercial contracts as that is the rung down below me. In addition to the other points, this job just isn’t senior enough for you. Moving will be tough in the future. I’d be concerned about hiring you at my company because I’d be concerned about how someone with so much more big law experience than me would feel about sitting below me in the hierarchy. I’d recommend you don’t take this job unless you have to.
Thanks Buglaw -- appreciate your thoughts and insights.
Topic Author
CedarRams
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Re: Currently Big Law - Should I Pursue This In-House Opportunity?

Post by CedarRams »

smatter wrote: Sat May 21, 2022 6:50 pm In house department leader here.

In house hiring is nearly impossible right now. There are simply not are enough qualified candidates, and big law has increased salaries to the point where it’s nearly a 50% pay cut in almost all circumstances. Yes, I think we all think is a recession is coming, but that simply doesn’t solve for the problems we have today.

Your former colleague senses that you might be a good investment (your comments here certainly suggest you would be), but there’s definitely something in it for them as well…
Thanks, smatter. I think the big law economics make it really hard to make the jump. In the event that I am not interested in pursuing this, I'd like to give my former colleague a name or two to recommend to him, but I can't think of anyone who would be fine with the pay cut. I see exactly what you are saying about in house hiring being nearly impossible right now.
Zeno
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Re: Currently Big Law - Should I Pursue This In-House Opportunity?

Post by Zeno »

CedarRams wrote: Sat May 21, 2022 6:07 pm Thanks, Zeno. Appreciate this advice. If my spouse lost her job and I took this in-house opportunity we could still make it work -- we would just have to watch our spending but I think we'd be fine.
Then I would do it without a second thought.

It is liberating to escape BigLaw. You will learn new skills. And you have a friend and mentor at the new opportunity.

I also sense that there is a “social benefit” to this opportunity that appeals to your soul. I would look at this as a glide path to work that is meaningful for you on your way to retirement.

I commend to you this, which has been posted here in other threads numerous times: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/ar ... ne/590650/.

Best wishes to you.
Last edited by Zeno on Sun May 22, 2022 1:55 am, edited 1 time in total.
Diluted Waters
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Re: Currently Big Law - Should I Pursue This In-House Opportunity?

Post by Diluted Waters »

CedarRams wrote: Sat May 21, 2022 6:07 pm Thanks, Zeno. Appreciate this advice. If my spouse lost her job and I took this in-house opportunity we could still make it work -- we would just have to watch our spending but I think we'd be fine.
I can't speak to the decision, but even if you don't take it, it appears you'll be looking into other options in the future.

So here's something I haven't seen mentioned: our steeply progressive tax structure can make taking a pay decrease easier and even more rewarding than it might look. Giving up $1 of pay doesn't equate to $1 net take home reduction.

I didn't realize this until my wife left her job 11 years ago, and it made little difference to us because we dropped a tax bracket and it turned out much of her pay was going to feeding the higher bracket instead of us.

Model your prospective income and taxes under new job options to see how much of a difference it might make to you. You may be pleasantly surprised.
Topic Author
CedarRams
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Re: Currently Big Law - Should I Pursue This In-House Opportunity?

Post by CedarRams »

Zeno wrote: Sat May 21, 2022 7:08 pm
CedarRams wrote: Sat May 21, 2022 6:07 pm Thanks, Zeno. Appreciate this advice. If my spouse lost her job and I took this in-house opportunity we could still make it work -- we would just have to watch our spending but I think we'd be fine.
Then I would do it without a second thought.

It is liberating to escape BigLaw. You will learn new skills. And you have a friend and mentor at the new opportunity.

I also sense that there is a “social benefit” to this opportunity that appeals to your soul. I would look at this as a glide path to work that is meaningful for you on your way to retirement.

I commend to you this, which has been posted here in other threads numerous times: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/ar ... ne/590650/. It is hard for hard-charging types to admit, but your best professional working years are likely behind you. Turns out I peaked — literally as measured by partner draw — at age 46. So if I were you I would happily exit the BigLaw stage, embrace the new opportunity and more to come, and never look back.

Best wishes to you.
Zeno, thanks for this. Yes, this company has a very good mission and that does appeal to me as does learning new skills. I read that article about professional decline and it did ring true. Appreciate your thoughts.
Topic Author
CedarRams
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Re: Currently Big Law - Should I Pursue This In-House Opportunity?

Post by CedarRams »

Diluted Waters wrote: Sat May 21, 2022 7:17 pm
CedarRams wrote: Sat May 21, 2022 6:07 pm Thanks, Zeno. Appreciate this advice. If my spouse lost her job and I took this in-house opportunity we could still make it work -- we would just have to watch our spending but I think we'd be fine.
I can't speak to the decision, but even if you don't take it, it appears you'll be looking into other options in the future.

So here's something I haven't seen mentioned: our steeply progressive tax structure can make taking a pay decrease easier and even more rewarding than it might look. Giving up $1 of pay doesn't equate to $1 net take home reduction.

I didn't realize this until my wife left her job 11 years ago, and it made little difference to us because we dropped a tax bracket and it turned out much of her pay was going to feeding the higher bracket instead of us.

Model your prospective income and taxes under new job options to see how much of a difference it might make to you. You may be pleasantly surprised.
Good thoughts, Diluted Waters. I have not done that analysis, but will look into it. Thanks.
Buglaw
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Re: Currently Big Law - Should I Pursue This In-House Opportunity?

Post by Buglaw »

I think I’m-house makes sense, but if your interested, I’d really target something much more senior and general or a litigation role at a large company. It will likely take you some time to find the right role. Just because staying in big law is not the right move doesn’t mean this job is the right move. Commercial contracts are pretty boring and formulaic. Everything in-house is simpler than what your doing at a firm, but this is much simpler. Hard to imagine someone with 20+ years in big law will like that.
Firemenot
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Re: Currently Big Law - Should I Pursue This In-House Opportunity?

Post by Firemenot »

How rapidly is the company growing? If it’s growing rapidly the Law Department should increase in size and there should be more newly-minted senior roles available. So perhaps you could do a few years “in the trenches” to learn by doing and then move up to a higher role.
Topic Author
CedarRams
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Re: Currently Big Law - Should I Pursue This In-House Opportunity?

Post by CedarRams »

Buglaw wrote: Sun May 22, 2022 12:16 pm I think I’m-house makes sense, but if your interested, I’d really target something much more senior and general or a litigation role at a large company. It will likely take you some time to find the right role. Just because staying in big law is not the right move doesn’t mean this job is the right move. Commercial contracts are pretty boring and formulaic. Everything in-house is simpler than what your doing at a firm, but this is much simpler. Hard to imagine someone with 20+ years in big law will like that.
I think this is a really good point, thanks. There are other good in-house jobs that will come along that are more in my wheelhouse. I touched base with someone who suggested reaching out to a couple of recruiters which is a good idea.
Topic Author
CedarRams
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Re: Currently Big Law - Should I Pursue This In-House Opportunity?

Post by CedarRams »

Firemenot wrote: Sun May 22, 2022 1:15 pm How rapidly is the company growing? If it’s growing rapidly the Law Department should increase in size and there should be more newly-minted senior roles available. So perhaps you could do a few years “in the trenches” to learn by doing and then move up to a higher role.
I need to do more research about this company. It is doing well, but I am not sure about its growth, etc. I know that doing a couple of years in the trenches would be great in terms of getting up to speed and my growth in a new practice area. Thanks for the input.
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