Julie Q. Brush, Solutus Legal Search . ()
Q: I’m a seasoned GC, but don’t have Big Law Firm training. I’m seeking a new job and have been rejected for a few GC roles because I lack this background. Why is Big Law experience so important at this stage of my career?
A: Employers come in all shapes and sizes. And when it comes to GC hires, so do their requirements. Each executive team possesses a vision of their perfect profile and their own set of priorities and values that govern a GC search. Some of these “must-haves” are based on logic … others, on emotional drivers. So every company … and search differs.
The requirement of “Big Law” experience most certainly exists for some GC opportunities … but not all. In fact, a large number of executives place more emphasis on the quality of overall in-house and GC experience than on the law firm brand during a candidate’s early professional years. So if you’re feeling demoralized and/or frustrated by your recent employment rejections, it is important to know that in today’s GC legal market, a background in Big Law is not an across-the-board requirement.
With this said, it would be helpful to understand why an employer might value this experience so you can create an interview strategy to address any future objections. Below are a few reasons a Big Law background may appeal to corporate executives:
Some employers view Big Law as a great training ground for young lawyers. This is where they learn the ropes—with smart midlevel and senior lawyers there to supervise, train and mentor. The work is diverse and plentiful and the hours are hefty—often requiring a Herculean work effort. It also provides an environment to develop a strong foundation for a sophisticated legal practice. Big Law is viewed as a high quality springboard for an in house practice.
Variety of work. Variety of Clients.
Big Law lawyers work with multiple clients and on a high volume … and variety of deals and cases. This exposure is appealing to an employer—as diversity provides a deeper level and wider range of expertise.
Big Law clients tend to be well branded, prominent and have sophisticated and complex work. If the work is sophisticated … so must be the lawyer be who services it, right?
The Bar is High To Join The Club.
It ain’t easy landing a job in Big Law. Criteria such as law school cache and grades dominate the hiring musts. So if you can make it through the door, chances are you’ve excelled academically. For some employers, this achievement is an important quality for a GC and an indicator of success.
The “Credential” Gives Credibility and Status.
The legal profession isn’t the only one that is status conscious. Lots of business executives … and board of directors are as well. To these folks having a Big Law background signifies distinction and status—which is an important reflection of the company, the executive team and the legal function. It mitigates risk of failure in the eyes of the executives.
Now that you know what a Big Law background might represent to an employer, you can use this insight to create messaging to address any future objections. So as you prepare for your interviews, identify examples of how your background as an in house lawyer and GC showcases your experience in these areas. For some clients, it won’t matter how persuasive or qualified you are, the lack of Big Law experience will be a non-starter. These situations are out of your control. So let them go and move on. There will be other opportunities more aligned with your background and executives who will value what you have to offer. So be patient, continue your efforts and remain optimistic—because there’s good reason to be. Onward and upward!