Attorneys in Transition: Corporate counsel positions

 Nick Augustine is the principal of Pro Serve PR Marketing, a firm that provides marketing and public relations advising and services for law firms. Nick’s practice includes advising attorneys on career development and leveraging knowledge, skills, and abilities. Nick earned a communications and rhetorical studies degree from Marquette University and a law degree from The John Marshall Law School where he is an active Alumni Board member.

I recently spoke with a friend who works for a large company as corporate counsel. Her position is interesting and the experience she is earning is useful in future legal positions, requiring task and management skills, beyond what most attorneys experience in traditional private practice.

Corporate counsels are the in-house attorneys who represent the interests of a corporation. As smaller companies grow, their legal fees increase, and it often makes sense to hire in-house counsel. In my friend’s position, there were two attorneys who supported her, and a few outside firms she used for her company’s litigation matters. My friend’s position allows her to determine what matters will be handled internally and which are properly farmed out. An attorney working as corporate counsel must be able to appropriate resources using their best judgment, in consideration of the best interests of the company.

The consistent exercise of judgment, regarding multiple transactional and litigation matters, certainly prepares an attorney for a management position in a law firm, in a corporate legal department, and in many other professional contexts. When overseeing outside law firms, internal staff and other business units, the corporate counsel manages budgets, expectations, and exposure to liability.

The role of corporate counsel requires decision making that can impact employee morale, corporate good will, and the company’s public relations efforts. Corporate counsels answer to the organization and its third parties which can require a thick skin.

The Association of Corporate Counsel is an organization providing education and resources regarding the complex issues corporate counsels face in managing the legal processes and workflow management. The organization and others like it provide networking opportunities for many in-house corporate attorneys who might not interact and network with other attorneys as much as they would in private practice or where they made frequent court appearances. Anyone considering in-house attorney work is well-advised to get involved in local chapters and events for the Association of Corporate Counsel members and with other similar groups.

Few law students set their course on obtaining an in-house legal position in a business, and most business managers hiring corporate counsels prefer an attorney who has significant experience. Transactional and litigation experience are both important to the role of the corporate counsel who must be able to appreciate the nature of the legal work preformed. Business experience is very useful when interacting with multiple entities and business units. Talking to a current or past in-house attorney is your best bet when considering applying for a corporate counsel position.

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