Biglaw, Billable Hours, In-House Counsel

Moonlighting: Who Wouldn’t Want to Go Back to Biglaw?

After much reflection and consideration, I am pleased to report that I have decide to leave this miserable in-house gig and return to glorious law firm life. I’ve recently accepted an offer to slave away work at the Big City office of the prestigious Biglaw, Biggerlaw & Biggestlaw LLP.

Why leave in-house life? Here are some reasons…

For one thing, I miss billing time. Every morning, I show up to the office and it’s just this complete free for all. There are a full eight hours (well, okay, really two and a half if you subtract meals and breaks) that you’re required to spend not billing until you can go home. With such a lack of structure, it’s really hard to keep track of how many of those kitty cat and adorable baby YouTube videos (and spoofs thereof) you’ve watched in a row. At a firm, I’ll really appreciate the discipline of having to divide up my internet browsing activity into 0.6 (or other) billable increments.

And it’s a challenge to figure out what to do with all of that free time after 5 p.m. When Hurricane Sandy hit a few weeks ago, our family lost cable TV and internet access, and we had to resort to desperate measures such as talking to each other and reading books to pass the time. I mean, I already did about a whole hour of that stuff during the free time I had on weeknights and weekends after work. Sandy, why did you have to make life so hard?

Plus, when I spend any of that after-hours time doing work or thinking about my business folks, do I get credit for that? Nope, I’ll have nothing to show for it. But I sure will once I’m at the firm. When I’m thinking for several 0.6 hour increments during my shower about whether I should have used “its” or “it’s” in the second paragraph of that contract, you can bet I’ll be billing that time.

And of course, there are the clients. People talk about how it’s so great to have client contact and in-house lawyers certainly have a lot of that. What they don’t tell you is that you can’t hide. You can’t just ignore their phone calls all day. These clients show up in unexpected places, such as your office and conference rooms, expecting you to know stuff about their work. And you’re outnumbered. There’s only one of you for like a hundred of them. You’re even expected to share the same bathrooms with them and make small talk every once in a while.

It also seems that, for some reason, companies don’t know how to hire employees with adequate skills. Instead, they come to the realization that every employee needs numerous training and development courses in order to do their job properly. And they try to trick you by giving these training courses misleading names like “Six Sigma.” Be warned — Six Sigma is NOT a cool adult fraternity, and there will NOT be kegs anywhere to be seen when you arrive. Law firm recruiting departments are obviously much more successful during the hiring process, as they rarely provide training courses to their employees.

The only aspect of the in-house practice I’ll miss is the way promotions work at a company. At law firms, every year, you get what is pretty much a promotion up the hierarchy, a step closer toward partnership. The problem with this type of advancement is that it assumes competency and ambition. For the incompetent or lazy associate, getting propelled to the next level up every year can be exceedingly stressful. Such associates may even feel pressured to spend a part of their billable time doing actual work. Yes, it can get that bad.

For the in-house lawyer, there are thankfully no automatic levels up in the ranks every year. The indolent are only in danger of getting promoted if the company can’t seem to find anyone better (even after they’ve gone through all of those training programs). Heck, even competent attorneys can have a hard time getting promoted. You could end up staying at the same level for decades without anyone noticing that you need a walker to get around these days.

When I told other in-house colleagues about my move from in-house to a law firm, their response was: “Wow, that’s not a common occurrence.” You could just hear the jealousy dripping in their words. Indeed. Not everyone has the opportunity to extricate themselves from the vise of an environment where people demand the impossible — that you understand and advise a business. Only a few of us are so lucky.

P.S. I’m not really moving back to a firm. My YouTube viewing at work will need to continue on a non-billable hour basis.

Susan Moon is an in-house attorney at a travel and hospitality company. Her opinions are her own and not those of her company or anyone she works with. Susan may share both her own and others’ experiences (especially the experiences of those who have expressly indicated to her that they must not under any circumstances be shared on ATL). You can reach her at and follow her on Twitter at @SusanMoon.

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