Going In-House: Tips to Make the Move and Start Strong

  • June 11, 2023
  • Mark Asfar, associate at Dentons LLP in Ottawa

The world of in-house legal counsel is an exciting one. It is a dynamic and multifaceted role, combining diverse legal skills and issues with the opportunity to directly contribute to a company's strategic decisions. It is a different way of practicing that requires an understanding of the business and industry of the company in addition to legal fundamentals. The trusted role of in-house counsel and legal advisor means that these lawyers often have a seat at the decision-making table, where they can contribute their legal expertise directly to their company's strategic initiatives and direction. It is a dynamic role that measures its success by its day-to-day impact, rather than by the billable hour.

In the past these roles were often reserved for lawyers with at least 5 to 10 years of traditional private practice experience. However, modern legal careers are more diverse than ever, especially for young lawyers starting out or early into their professional practice. Increasingly, medium to large companies are realizing the benefits of having legal counsel inside the organization to advise on issues in real time and the cost savings of paying a lawyer’s salary directly instead of comparable law firm fees. The result is that many of these companies are building up their in-house legal capacity by assembling legal departments made up of junior and senior in-house counsel in addition to their traditional experienced general counsel or legal directors, or even hiring junior lawyers into the role of general counsel. This has created more opportunities than ever before for young lawyers to make the leap to in-house roles and to do so earlier than legal cohorts in the past.

However, while there may be more in-house roles available to pursue, it does not mean that young lawyers should approach these roles with any less diligence than they would for any other legal job. For those seeking to make the move to an in-house position, they should tailor their application and pursue the change carefully and consider some of the tips set out below.