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Brian Ashby left a lot behind to go in-house at U S West, Inc. as someone who had never left his native Virginia for more than a few weeks, moving to the company’s headquarters in Denver required pulling up some deep roots. And leaving the midsize Washington, D.C., firm where he was a seventh-year associate meant relinquishing what looked like a good shot at making partner. But Ashby has no regrets: “The two years I have spent at U S West have been the most rewarding of my career.” At U S West the pay is competitive, the benefits are excellent, and the work, he says, is fascinating. Client development and worrying over billable hours are a memory. And when Ashby’s first child was born last August, he was able to be at home for two weeks. Although he puts in even longer hours than he did as an associate, on average 56-65 hours a week, he enjoys the work a lot more. Plus, says Ashby: “I always have the outlet of outside counsel.” His story is not unusual; in-house lawyers are pretty happy with the choices they have made. At least that’s the word from the 490 lawyers, from 36 companies, who responded to Corporate Counsel’s second annual Quality of Life Survey. Despite increasingly demanding hours and the ever-present threat of mergers, they report being basically satisfied with their lot. Who are these happy lawyers? The survey respondents are mostly male (62 percent) and overwhelmingly white. Most are married, with kids. They have been practicing anywhere from one to 39 years, but the majority (51 percent) have been with their current employers for less than 5 years. While our respondent pool is not a statistically controlled sample, it does include a broad range of legal positions in a wide variety of businesses. The companies where they work range from high-tech to heavy construction, and from the high to low end of the Fortune 500. The jobs they hold at these companies range from chief legal officer to staff attorney. In short, it’s a random group that provides a candid snapshot of life in-house. Despite the diversity of specializations, the message from these lawyers is fairly consistent: life in-house is good. When asked, for instance, if they agreed or disagreed with the statement “I would rather be at a law firm,” a resounding 95 percent disagreed. As Brian Ashby puts it: “I’m happy where I am.” Most of the respondents (77 percent) said that gaining a healthier balance between work and personal life was a big part of why they decided to go in-house in the first place. And 70 percent said the move had indeed helped them to achieve that better-balanced life. For Karen Skarupski, the decision to go in-house was an easy one. Pregnant with her first child, she was worried about how she could care for her baby and stay on the partner track at the Erie, Penn., firm where she was a fifth-year associate. When a fellow board member of the local ballet suggested that she join the legal division of Erie Insurance Group, she leapt at the chance. Now an associate general counsel and the single mother of 7- and 9-year-olds, Skarupski typically works an 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. schedule and occasionally takes advantage of the company’s flex-time option. She says that her work is “as interesting or more interesting” than what she did as a litigator in private practice, and that the money is “very close” to what she thinks she would have been making. “Even if the money didn’t compare,” she says, “my quality of life is more important to me.” The majority of our survey respondents put in slightly longer hours than Skarupski (53 percent said they work 46-55 hours a week), but the time commitment is still more humane than what most associates at large firms face. As an executive vice president and general counsel of Centex-Rooney Construction Company, Inc., Bruce Moldow works just as many hours as he did when he was an associate-50-60 hours per week. The difference is that he has a lot more control over his schedule. Or, as he puts it: “If something comes up on a Friday afternoon, it isn’t necessarily my weekend that gets ruined.” The money isn’t bad either. The largest cluster of respondents (23 percent) on the salary question earn between $100,000 and $124,999 a year. A majority of the respondents (72 percent) reported themselves as being somewhere between “satisfied” and “very satisfied” with their compensation. A similar number (71 percent) of respondents reported pocketing a 1999 year-end bonus ($33,350 on average), and 64 percent said they receive stock options. But time and money aren’t the only considerations. After compensation, the second most important issue for the survey respondents was whether the work was interesting. An overwhelming number (78 percent) rated their work as either above average or fascinating-erasing the remnants of the stereotypical dull in-house job. The “intangibles” can make or break a job, and in-housers come out well on this front too. For instance, respondents report a high level of respect from their colleagues on the business side. In fact, three quarters of the respondents rated relations between the business and legal sides as either above average or outstanding. Respondents also feel that their fellow lawyers are smart and reasonably congenial: 85 percent rated their colleagues’ competence as above average or outstanding, and 63 percent said collegiality within the department was above average or outstanding. What’s wrong in this picture? Not a whole lot. Lawyers did give their companies lower ratings overall for training new lawyers and for the number of lawyers for the workload. And 73 percent of the respondents said opportunities for advancement at their companies were either average or below average. While opportunities for women were seen as being fairly solid, opportunities for minorities lagged behind. But the numbers overall were far from damning. Even when considering the chance to escape the “cost center” label and move over to the business side, only 30 percent said this was something they would like to do. And an impressive 77 percent said they would recommend their companies to friends. Although Brian Ashby still misses his home state, he is very pleased with his life in-house. And he and his wife named their first child Virginia.

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