Successful shifts from partner to GC-level in-house lawyer

Law firm partners face jolting changes when they join a law department at a senior level. Major disparities between partners’ experiences in a law firm compared to the department that they join relate to prestige, compensation, organization, communication, and management. The following are three interesting comments excerpted from Hildebrandt’s research interviews:

• “By comparison to the firm I left, this department is very segmented. We have no idea what other legal groups are doing, and there is very little overlap. We operate as silos.”
• “There is a bell curve applied to performance distributions because there is internal pressure from corporate to suppress rankings. There is no clear way of moving up on the scale, and they never move people down. This results in many long-time department members being over-rewarded in compensation, purely based on years of service, somewhat paralleling the old days of lock-step in law firms.”
• “We are incredibly resource constrained – in terms of technology, support staff and professionals. We are dealing with too few lawyers and a backlog. Secretaries act as our messenger service, running documents all over the company. And we don’t have half the technology available in a law firm.

Law departments that recruit a partner need to empathize with what the new hire goes through. They need to recognize the many cultural and organizational differences and frustrations one can encounter in transitioning to in-house.

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