A large percentage of the people who contact us for recruitment assistance are currently working in-house and are looking to return to the law firm sector or break into it for the first time. What most of these candidates don’t realize is that it is generally much more difficult to transition from an in-house position to a law firm position than it is to lateral from one law firm to another.

Many of those who end up moving from a law firm to an in-house position tell us that they preferred the law firm environment. Their reasons vary, but some common themes include: same stress, different hours; a lack of substantive and/or interesting work; a feeling that their skills are not developing at the appropriate pace; the sense that they are stuck working on matters that are not of interest to them or are not within their areas of expertise; a lack of meaningful promotion/progression prospects; and the belief that the companies they are working for are not growing at the pace the candidate expected.

Because so many of the candidate who contact us are in-house and are unhappy and because it is often very difficult to make the transition back into the law firm environment, I often find myself explaining to candidates why, in many cases, the best path to a reliable and fulfilling in-house position is a solid law firm lateral move.

There are multiple reasons for this. First, since the economic downturn, there has been a shift in the amount of experience companies look for when searching for qualified in-house counsel. Prior to the downturn, it was often said that corporate attorneys could comfortably look to make an in-house transition after 5 years of experience, while litigators had more success in or around the 8-10 year range. However, as a result of the downturn, many highly qualified and experience senior-level government employees, law firm partners and senior in-house attorneys suddenly found themselves on the job market, either as a result of lay-offs, department collapses, or company mergers and dissolutions.