The general counsel of IBM highlights three transitional challenges for lawyers who move in-house

Robert Weber, the general counsel of IBM, assumed that position in 2006 when he left his partnership at Jones Day. He commented on the adjustments he had to make to succeed in-house and pointed out three in Legal Strat. Rev., Summer 2010 at 17.

As a lawyer, you are only one member of a team when you work for a corporation. He makes the point that at a law firm, legal work counts for everything and, implicitly, lawyers run the show. Inside, “It’s no longer just about legal; instead, it’s about how the board and management work together, and how the legal department can provide support on a much broader spectrum of issues.” I would add that legal advice is only one input for senior management; it does not rule the roost like in a law firm.

A second re-orientation is that “as in-house counsel you’re in it for the long haul.” External counsel come in, do their work, collect their fees, and leave. As Weber says, “When you work in-house, you live with the consequences of that work for a long time.” That truth can lead to great satisfaction when you spend a long time and solve something. Contrariwise, some problems (legacy litigation comes to mind) are well-nigh intractable.

Third, Weber has observed, you cope with a constant flow of work. At a firm, there are peaks and valleys, depending on the fortunes of marketing. Not so inside: “All we have here are peaks – and we need to be able to deliver the goods 24 hours a day, seven days a week.” I think the constant high pressure may be a bit exaggerated for many of his charges, although at his level the fire hose probably never turns off (See my post of Nov. 24, 2009: differences in clocks between inside and outside lawyers.).

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