Let’s face it, attorneys are going to be the same in-house as they are at a law firm. There also is not a difference in the volume of work a paralegal receives in-house vs. being at a firm. If you work at a large law firm or work in a large in-house legal department, you would have the same responsibility level and work load at either position. The same is true of a small firm or small legal department.
Having worked on both sides of the fence, whether you would prefer to work in-house or at a law firm depends on several factors:
(1)the type of work you want to do;
(2)the environment that you excel in; and
(3)the direction you want your career to go.
When working at a law firm, you have tons of clients and only interact with them on case by case basis. There is good and bad to that type of scenario. The good is if you have a particularly trying client, you can limit your interaction to the duration of the case, or have other clients who may be easier to deal with take the focus off the trying behavior of that client you are trying to avoid.
Additionally, if something should happen to a client (lose the client voluntarily or involuntarily), you don’t necessarily have to worry about losing your job whereas being in-house if your company closes, you are definitely out of a job.
When you work in-house, you really only have one client: the company that you work for. Working in-house in a legal department is much different than working at a law firm. When you work at a law firm, you have colleagues you can discuss your cases, transactions, and other matters with, because for the most part you are on the same team.
However, in-house everything is on a need to know basis when interacting with colleagues outside of the legal department (and sometimes even inside the legal department). An in-house paralegal must always remember that their company is the client, and at any time, its employees, vendors, suppliers and customers can be adverse to the client (even including their boss).
The great thing about working in-house is that there is room for development that is not necessarily mired in the law. For instance, paralegals can move into other managerial roles, including compliance, claims management, corporate secretarial roles, and IP management. The bonus of being on the ground with the client in-house is that you get to learn how the client thinks and the processes that they have in place.
Occasionally you get to be proactive to teach and counsel the client on why a certain course of action would be prohibitive. Like being at a law firm, the client doesn’t always listen to you in those instances. I have to say, the biggest perk of being in-house is NO BILLABLE HOURS.
Kathryn Gordon is a professional senior corporate paralegal who currently works for Broadwind Energy Inc. (NASDAQ:BWEN) in its Naperville, IL corporate headquarters. Kathryn received her B.S. degree in Paralegal Studies from Stevenson University fka Villa Julie College in 1997. Since receiving her degree, Kathryn has worked in a variety of legal environments including corporate legal departments, non-profit associations and law firms supporting attorneys in the areas of alternative energy regulatory matters, bankruptcy creditor rights, contracts negotiation and management, corporate governance for public and private domestic and international companies, compliance programs and training, employee relations, intellectual property portfolio management and prosecution, litigation, real estate, regulatory and securities matters.