Headhunters / Recruiters, In-House Counsel, Job Searches

House Rules: The Devil You Don’t Know…

I recently received a cold call from a recruiter. Back in the day, when we were young and cocky Biglaw associates, we’d often just say “no thanks” and hang up on headhunters. For most of you, a call wondering if you’d like to explore a great opportunity in some department or other at another firm hasn’t occurred in years.

The economy just isn’t the same. For me, it’s been quite awhile since I received such a call. First of all, it’s fairly difficult to reach us; our numbers aren’t publicly available, thus making solicitations and cold calls something of an anomaly. Second, now that I’m in-house, the usual course is to seek out a recruiter, if necessary, rather than the other way around.

Well, my interest was piqued, and I chatted with her for about a half-hour. She works for a company with revenue much greater than I am used to, and a market cap well above my current employer’s. The job itself entails working on technology deals for a greater salary and overall compensation package. The company would also relocate me to a very palatable locale. Finally, the location is near many potential employers for my wife.

Seems like a great opportunity on its face. But, as one of my mentors has sagely stated, the devil you don’t know can be much worse than the devil you do know….

As I have reported here before, many folks who write to me (in fact, the vast majority) are looking to jump from firm life to in-house. And I completely understand. I can tell from the tone of their letters that they are in that miasma of drudgery and stress that can overwhelm an associate mentally and physically. They still cash the checks, but they are realizing that, for them, firm life must end.

Moving from one in-house position to another can be quite different. Hopefully, you’ve gotten the stress of firm life into a deeply recessed corner of your mind, and are at least satisfied with the work you’ve been doing. You’ve been given a great deal of autonomy sans billable hours, and you’ve gained back some semblance of a life. So, why would you look elsewhere?

Is it the competitive nature of the hunt that compels us to keep looking for something else? Is it a need borne of insecurity that impels us to keep searching? It is no secret that GCs of major corporations are routinely courted to leave their positions, so this phenomenon isn’t relegated just to those of us lower in the hierarchy. Perhaps it’s the thought that just over that fence is some greener grass –- or greener paychecks. But, the paycheck isn’t the end all anymore.

I had the paycheck, and a lifestyle to match. Of course that was before kids, and retirement planning, and saving for college, and continuing to pay down my infernal student loans. There is much more to consider at this stage in life than just a paycheck. It comes down to internal satisfaction. Do I come to work every day with a knot in my stomach, or do I wake up satisfied with what, and how, I’m doing?

This may seem like psychobabble shiite to those of you in a very real and serious situation of having to try to find work. But hear me out. It is no secret that I cannot be completely soul-baring in these posts. I’d be quickly fired, and shunned by colleagues and friends for letting too many cats out of their bags. And there’s a sticky wicket called ethical obligations regarding confidentiality. So, take what you read with a bit of salt, and know there is always more going on than gets expressed in a few hundred words.

My point in this post is that there’s no harm in looking. In fact, even the most loyal company-line advocate would be foolish not to at least listen to what may be out there. Even if you’re completely happy in what you’re doing, it is possible that you could be happier elsewhere. You never know.

That higher paying gig near the mountains, or the beach, might just come saddled with more stress than you ever experienced in a firm. I have a very good friend who left a firm only to become saddled with a ludicrous amount of multi-district litigation against his new company. Because he’s talented and smart, it didn’t phase him, but there was no panacea to his move. The same could be true for this job that the recruiter was selling me. Nice locale, nice salary, bigger company with potentially more opportunity long-term.

That job might well suck. The boss could be an ass, and the honeymoon could end before it begins. It’s nigh on impossible to tell, or know with any certainty. Beware the devil you don’t know.


After two federal clerkships and several years as a litigator in law firms, David Mowry is happily ensconced as an in-house lawyer at a major technology company. He specializes in commercial leasing transactions, only sometimes misses litigation, and never regrets leaving firm life. You can reach him by email at dmowry00@gmail.com.

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