January 19, 2018

Life as Corporate Counsel


I have this friend from Study Abroad who is a year older than me and is in med school and one cool thing I've found out through her is that when you're an upper level med student, you go through these rounds of spending 2 weeks working as a family doctor, 2 weeks working as a pediatrician, 2 weeks with plastic surgery, 2 weeks with internal medicine... you get the point. And I am so jealous that they get this opportunity because it's a way for them to experience first hand all of the different areas of medicine and find out what's for sure not for them and narrow down what they want to do. Sadly law students don't get this opportunity so you never really know if there's a field of law out there that you would absolutely love if you just try. I'm a week shy of the med student 2 week experience, but I thought I'd share with y'all what I've already learned so far about being corporate counsel to give you a little snapshot to see what it's like!


What is corporate counsel

Traditionally, businesses would hire law firms to do all of their legal work (like Harvey Spectre). Then businesses realized it'd be cheaper and more efficient to have their own attorney employed by their business just for them to handle the day-to-day legal needs and then if there's a big suit or a complicated area, then they can hire a law firm to handle that. I think of corporate counsel (AKA in-house) as being like the mom of the company. People come to you to complain about problems they need resolved, come to get your advice, and come to when they need to settle an argument. 

How CC is different than just working in a law firm is that usually in a law firm you get really good in one area (say, real estate) and spend most of your time doing that for all kinds of different clients. This is just the opposite where you do a little bit of everything, but for just one client. So you are working on vendor contracts, leasing agreements, trademark licensing, employment issues (workplace safety to avoiding wrongful termination), mergers and acquisitions, anti-trust, buying and selling contracts, ensuring federal and state compliance, dealing with any countries that your company does work with, counseling officers and board members, and basically just any other problem that a business might encounter just trying to operate.

Pros of corporate counsel

I met a lawyer my 1L year at a networking thing and I asked him what was the worst part about being a lawyer and he said "billable hours fo sho" (okay I'm adding a little "mere puffery" here lol). But as CC you don't have to do that because you're basically billing your client (AKA your employer) with your salary. So whether a document takes you two full weeks or two hours to get done, you get paid the same.

This brings me to my next point of normal business hours. One of the lawyers I work with is married to a private practice attorney and she was explaining to me that while sometimes they both end up with 80-hour work weeks, he has them much more often then she does. And usually she ends up having a 40-hour work week. So if tbh as a woman I really like this idea because I could have kids and not feel guilty about missing their wholes lives because I'm working all the time. Plus, you're missing a lot of happy hours if you're working 80-hour weeks hahah.

One big thing that I've come to realize that I like is just having one client. When everything you do all-day, every-day is for the same client, it can be easy because you understand where they're coming from and what they want. You can be strategic and make decisions not just about what's good for this one situation, but what will be beneficial for the company as a whole in the future. Plus, your client can't be too crazy demanding because they should have a good sense of all of the work that's on your plate (although kinda not really because the finance people don't know what the property people have already given you). But I will point out that a downside of this is that your client is always there so you could be getting calls, emails, or drop-ins all day from people constantly needing help if it's one of those if-it-rains-it-pours kind of days.

Another thing that I personally like is the variety of the work. If my eyes start to bleed from reading regulation after regulation to make sure our policies are up-to-date with them, I can just switch gears and redline contracts for a bit. Detour: redlining a contract is basically we're negotiating a contract with someone else so they'll send us their contract and we mark out all the parts that are bad for us (think like "you waive all rights to sue us ever") and put in our own suggestions (think like requesting that they have a higher liability insurance policy if we're sending our employees onto their property); I personally think it's really fun (law nerd) because you get to be all bossy.  

You don't "real lawyer." One of my bosses jokes that any time she's ever had to go down to court to file a pleading or motion, she's doing "real lawyering." This is pretty rare because usually something like a cease & desist letter can fix a problem or if it's a big problem (think we're going to trial), then outside counsel will hop on board. For me, I don't feel this big urge to be litigating because if you've ever researched for a brief or sat through a trial then you know how it can be really stressful. While CC obviously isn't stress-free, I know that when I show up for work I won't need to have all of the Rules of Evidence or Trial Procedure fresh on my mind to be shouting out all day. Although, if you like the thrill of litigation then I guess this point would go in the next section for you.

Cons of corporate counsel

Although I am loving my externship, no job is perfect. For starters, these jobs are harder to come by. My company has only two lawyers that handle everything (except for the outside counsel they hire for the more complex issues) and on the other hand, some law firms have literally hundreds of lawyers. I've read both that some companies prefer to cherry pick the best (usually super experienced) person from a law firm and recruit them to their CC but also that now some companies prefer to hire fresh-faced law students so that they grow up learning only how to do things the way the company does. Ideally I'll be able to find a company like the latter (because if we're being honest here as much as I love my company and I'm sure they love me back, they just don't have the need for another lawyer so a job offer definitely isn't waiting for me), but realistically I know I might have to work at a normal firm to gain some experience before I can be qualified enough for a job.

And if we're being blunt then the money of corporate counsel usually isn't quite the same as a law firm. Since there's no billable hours or contingency fees, as a CC you're salaried just like a normal job. And while the sales team and everyone else at your job are actually making your company money with their job, all you're really doing is helping them not lose money so it's not like you have the opportunity to earn any bonuses. But also, you're still being a lawyer for a company so you're still making good money, just not like a quarter million a year (unless you work for Disney). You also are giving up the chance to be partner because there's really only the position of lawyer or lawyer in the legal department (although you could rise up to be like president of a branch of the company).

Okay so that's all I have so far! I'm sure I'll have lots more to say about this as time goes on, but I wanted to get this post written now while all these concepts are still new and fresh on my mind. Have a good weekend everyone and once again, enjoy studying while I do nothing because I'm basically done with school muahahahahaah 

let's be friends!

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