In the wake of another major law firm collapse, I’m getting more calls than ever from associates and partners who crave the “job security” of working for a corporate law department. I put job security in quotes because I think the concept is widely misunderstood within the legal profession. 

Certainly, everyone has come to appreciate that job security within a law firm context is tied to building and maintaining a book of business. It’s the “800 pound gorilla” with clients who call the shots. 

Inside counsel don’t get to call the shots. They are vulnerable to mergers, downsizings, leadership changes or bankruptcy. Moving inside certainly removes the pressure of building a client base, but you become instantly vulnerable to the circumstances of your one new client (aka employer). 

The irony, and the message of this month’s column, is that it is much easier to build a client base from an inside counsel platform. You can do the main thing that you did not want to do at a law firm. Specifically, you can build relationships with inside counsel who control millions of dollars in outside counsel spend. You start with your colleagues down the hall, of course, but that’s not the key to long-term job security. Winning the confidence of your general counsel is helpful, but it’s mainly adding more eggs to the one-client basket.

The job security light bulb really goes on when you realize how easy it is to build rapport with inside counsel counterparts at other companies. You are not selling anything! You can build relationships in a way that business-seeking law firm attorneys cannot. You can join inside-only events, panels and lunches.

Better yet, you can and should get to know critical connections one-on-one. I’m talking about inside counsel within your industry segment or subject matter expertise. You start those conversations by seeking advice on a specific question or by offering a best practices type of suggestion. Smart inside counsel quickly build a robust contact database of other inside counsel.

Job security is all about access to decision-makers, and your inside counsel counterparts are the ones who can help you land softly with a new position when you need, or simply want, to leave your current company. To use a sports analogy, look at how head coaches in the NFL hire from within the same fraternity of colleagues. 

But don’t limit your thinking to just new employment as might be needed down the road. Many inside counsel who truly “get” the advice I’m dishing out here become wildly successful 800-pound gorillas in law firms. If you build relationships now with counterparts in other law departments, many of those contacts will welcome you as a potential service provider. You become someone who can open doors for a law firm. That, my friends, is job security for life.