Julie Brush. Julie Brush.

In today’s legal market, in-house opportunities for freshly minted law school graduates are  slowly on the rise. And more newbies are choosing this path out of the gate if the opportunity arises. While this hiring practice is fairly limited and not a norm … yet, more GCs are warming up to the idea of adding first-year lawyers to their legal teams. So it’s a practice that, I believe, will pick up more steam in the upcoming years.

With this said, the majority of corporate employers still require solid years of legal experience (preferably in-house) as part of the hiring criteria for all their legal roles. But the shifting GC mindset as well as the evolving legal market has provided the greenest lawyers with more opportunity … and avenues to get both feet in the legal door.

Contrary to popular belief, advertisements are the least common way recent grads land in house roles today. More typical scenarios involve a closer relationship to the company and its legal department. They include:

  • Night students who also work full or part-time at a company in a capacity such as patent agent or paralegal, but are converted to legal counsel once they graduate and pass the bar.
  • Lawyers who begin their legal careers in other roles like contracts management—and are then promoted to legal counsel.
  • Students who intern in a company’s legal department during law school and are offered full-time employment after earning their law degree.
  • Junior contract or project attorneys who are converted to permanent hires.

In each of these scenarios, the law school grad is a known commodity with an established relationship and proven record of success with the employer.

So how smart is this hiring practice?

Smart hiring managers keep an open mind to different attorney profiles that can add value to the department and the company. They don’t follow norms just because “it’s been done that way for years.” And they don’t stay in the box because it’s safe. They look for better ways to do things—which includes their approach to building a great department. Hiring a recent law school grad is an out-of-the-box move that can be a smart hiring practice—depending on the reasons for doing so, bandwidth for training; and the impact on the organization. But sometimes, it’s not a direction that is wise or makes sense.

So the answer is … it depends.

A lot has happened to the legal profession over the last two decades. And change continues. As in-house legal departments toy with new ways of doing things better … and cheaper, the landscape of these departments will continue to transform right before our eyes. Legal departments are expanding—and growing lawyers from scratch is an intriguing notion for today’s GCs. It’s a practice that is still in its relative infancy, but in time could prove to be a new norm.

Stay tuned …

Julie Brush is the founder and author of The Lawyer Whisperer (www.thelawyerwhisperer.com), a career advice column for legal professionals, also found on LinkedIn. She is co-founder of Solutus Legal Search, a legal search/consulting boutique firm, serving as a strategic adviser to lawyers, law firms and corporations.