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ATLANTA � Until recently, it was usually a one-way trip from law firms to in-house counsel, but increasingly lawyers are finding that careers can go full circle. “It used to be a one-way street from law firm to in-house,” said Frederick J. Krebs, president of the Washington-based Association of Corporate Counsel. “Now you see much more of people going both ways.” The reasons for the trend shift relate to the timing and events in each individual career as well as a general increase in job movement, but also at least in part to the change in status of in-house lawyers. “It comes out wrong when I say this, but there’s not the stigma there used to be,” said Krebs. “I mean, 20 or 30 years ago, people used to look at the inside practice differently.” The stigma to which Krebs refers involves the notion that in-house jobs were less demanding and chosen for the regular hours � which many now say is a myth. “Historically, corporate law departments focused on handling of routine legal matters while more complex legal issues were managed by outside law firms,” according to a Minority Corporate Counsel Association report called “Creating Pathways to Diversity.” The report quotes an unnamed GC saying, “For many years, the role of in-house counsel was to act as a conduit between inside business people and outside counsel. Their role lasted only so long as it took to get a matter from their in-box to their out-box.” That image has changed dramatically. As the report states, “The role of corporate law departments has evolved from being primarily an intermediary between the company and its law firms to being a full-service legal team involved in every major business decision.” Krebs added, “The reason you see it differently today is that the in-house practice can be very exciting and very cutting edge.” It seems that, just as law firm experience provides important skills for in-house counsel, the in-house experience can be valuable to law firms. Those returning to firms with in-house experience have not only legal skills but also contacts and perspective that can help with getting and keeping business. “They can go back to a firm and help on the business side with client relations,” said Krebs. “It would be tremendously valuable in a law firm.” And Krebs may even be understating it. Donald B. Mitchell, a partner in Smith, Gambrell & Russell’s aviation practice, said that his seven years working in-house at Delta Air Lines proved to be “not valuable, but invaluable.” “It was very helpful,” said Mitchell. “Having worked at Delta at the time, partly learning the technical aspects of aviation and also learning what’s important to an airline. It helps me no matter which side of the table I’m sitting on.” Mitchell’s fascination is with airplanes. “I always wanted to be in aviation,” he said. So when he graduated from the University of Miami School of Law, he started practicing with a Miami firm that handled aviation defense litigation and commercial transactions. After five years, he wanted to leave Miami. He and his wife decided on Atlanta, and he set his sights on Delta. But he had to wait almost two years for an opening in the Delta legal department. “It took a retirement for a position to open,” he said. In the Delta legal department, Mitchell handled commercial transactions involving acquisitions, leases, uses and support of fleet assets � airplanes. He helped document the acquisition of the airline’s 110-aircraft Boeing’s fleet. After five years in legal, he did what successful in-house lawyers sometimes do. He advanced. “I was promoted into a nonlegal position managing aircraft acquisition and sales,” he said. “It was challenging to be in a nonlegal position and very interesting. Working in an airline is like nothing else. It’s very exciting. You get involved in all aspects of the business.” But after two more years, he found he missed law. “In a management position, you are managing. I wasn’t doing the deals I wanted to do,” Mitchell said. “It was very exciting and interesting and challenging, but I enjoy doing deals.” So he went back to a law firm, Philadelphia-based Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis’ Atlanta office, which has since closed. Unlike some in-house lawyers who go back to a firm, Mitchell was not able to take a big chunk of the client’s work with him. Delta had long-established ties to Atlanta firms, particularly Alston & Bird. “I went over to Schnader with nothing,” Mitchell said. “They took me in on the flyer and had some business for me to handle in aviation litigation. But they did not have aviation transactional practice. That was the business they wanted to build.” When the office closed after three years, he was about to accept an offer to stay with Schnader but move to his native Philadelphia. Then he got a call from Stephen M. Forte, managing partner at Atlanta’s Smith Gambrell, and that’s where he landed in 2002.

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