Accessibility Links

In-house counsel jobs get a boost as slew of regulations increase workload

Posted by: Laurence Simons 05/11/12

Everyone remembers graduating from law school, right? Throwing a mortar board up in the air. Smiling next to your parents. Wearing a big cape. Having hope for the future. And then, when the dust has settled, when the dignitaries with huge bushy eyebrows have said speeches, you are ushered into a quiet room and a man in a hooded cloak approaches you. "Young lawyer, listen well," he says, through a Deepthroat-style voice recoder. "Before you are three doors. One leads towards private practice jobs. One leads toward in-house jobs. And one leads directly into a pit of fire and unhappiness." And that's how you choose your career path.

Previously, when asked to choose a door by a sinister and hooded man around the back of your alma mater, you would have chosen according to the following priority order: first private practice, then in-house, then fiery pit. But that's all changed this year, with the pay structure among in-house general counsel and even those lower down the corporate pecking order swelling, and their legal roles becoming more important.

And as the Wall Street Journal's Jennifer Smith notes, that means the previously clear path to success (that used to be in landing a plum law firm job) has been rerouted. In-house legal jobs are, suddenly, a lot more important. 

"Companies are beefing up their compliance teams, often filling top posts with former prosecutors and attorneys who may have represented big companies but have limited in-house experience," said Jennifer. "These internal programs seek to identify corruption and other problems before regulators do, and can serve as insurance policies to limit fines and other penalties. Some operate independently of in-house legal departments, although collaboration is the norm."

And Medtronic GC Cameron Findlay agreed, saying: "The growth and the job security is, for better or worse, in compliance."

So why the big compliance push? According to Smith, it's all to do with regulation: although the financial sector is the poster-boy of the 'subject to new regulation' world, a whole host of sectors are subject to new rules and legal constraints brought in as a result of the recession.

What does that mean? That means companies have to try a whole lot harder not to get in trouble. And a dedicated team of in-house legal experts is just what they need to avoid costly legal battles of government-issued fines. Even social media can be a legal issue for big corporations. "Big companies are grappling with legal issues that didn't exist ten years ago," says Smith. As the popular practice of expanding into emerging markets also offers legal hoops for big companies to jump through, graduating lawyers are hoping to choose the door marked 'in-house' more than 'private practice' these days due to the sheer workload on offer.