Some law school grads head directly in-house

While most GCs hire law firm-trained associates, a few are opting to groom their own teams

When FMC Technologies GC Jeffrey Carr hired three new lawyers for his department recently, he took two from law firms and one who had gotten some in-house experience after a law firm stint.

Although he hired law-firm trained attorneys, he will still have to teach them to do things the FMC way. And while law firms teach practical skills, their training emphasis is on putting out fires, whereas in-house counsel focus on preventing them. As a result, Carr thought about—but rejected—the idea of hiring recent law school graduates and training them from scratch.

“The issue for us is, is it better to build the lawyer you want, or change the lawyer you get?” he says. With just seven lawyers in the U.S., Carr decided it wasn’t practical to train inexperienced lawyers in-house, believing recent grads wouldn’t be ready to get to work. “Unfortunately, law schools don’t produce people with the practical skills we need, so we opted to hire people with a little more experience,” he says.

Carr is hardly alone. While law departments have rebelled against paying high billing rates for junior-level law firm associates, saying they won’t pay the firms to train the new lawyers, general counsel don’t want to take on the training burden themselves.

“When I engage in this topic with the vast majority of general counsel, it’s a nonstarter as a conversation,” says Mike Evers, president of Evers Legal Search. “The issue is training. The perception is that law school graduates aren’t ready, and GCs say they are not in the business of doing that kind of training.”

A few very large law departments have recently charted a new course, recruiting students directly from law school and training them in-house or in conjunction with their law firms. They remain the outliers, however. On the following pages, InsideCounsel looks at two innovative in-house training programs and at four attorneys who went straight from law school to in-house positions.

HP's Boot Camp

In fall 2009, the leaders of Hewlett-Packard’s legal department saw an opportunity and took it. Many law firms were deferring or rescinding offers to new associates, leaving top graduates from the nation’s leading law schools in the lurch.

“We could pluck the top talent whose opportunities had been taken away,” says HP Legal’s Chief of Staff and Deputy General Counsel Amy Schuh, both of students willing to work for less money than top law firms pay because they didn’t have a job and those who wanted the work-life balance associated with an in-house career. “It was an opportunity to bring in lawyers we can train in the HP way who will have long, successful careers in this department.”

That year, HP recruited four law school students who started work at HP’s Palo Alto, Calif., headquarters in September 2010. The following year, the program expanded to five new graduates hired in the U.S., and four in India. The HP class of 2012 includes six students hired to work domestically, and additional hiring overseas is under consideration.

HP’s training includes two, weeklong “boot camps” that have been so successful that they are now offered to all new HP lawyers, regardless of level. The first-year associates also must complete a curricula of practical training, including research memos, document review, and a day spent with the government relations team and with a salesperson. Two weeks of face-to-face training includes seminars on writing and negotiation, and is supplemented with web-based training. Intermittent training continues into the second year, with experiences such as visiting HP’s contracting site to learn how to negotiate a contract.

“We looked at the basics of lawyering—the things every junior associate [at a law firm] should do—and said let’s make sure they have that opportunity here as well,” Schuh says.

The new hires are immediately assigned to a practice group where they are given real legal work, though often the kind of work more senior attorneys don’t want to do, such as 50-state surveys on a legal issue.

“They are getting work done that de sper - ately needed to get done,” Schuh says, thereby freeing up more senior attorneys to work on more complicated matters. They have quickly exceeded expectations.

“Every one of them is a rising star,” Schuh says. “All four [who started in 2010] are doing the work of mid-level associates already, and very high-quality work. It’s been a real pleasant surprise for all of us.”

Another surprise is the impact the new lawyers’ energy and enthusiasm has had on the department’s culture. “They are incredibly engaged and happy to be here. They really appreciate the opportunity they have, and that has been contagious,” she says.

HP recruits at 13 top law schools from coast to coast and receives many more resumes from students over the transom. At Northwestern Law School, where HP has hired four graduating students throughout the past three years, Assistant Dean for Career Strategy William Chamberlain confirms that a large number of top students are willing to work for less money in-house.

“In this market, with this generation of students, who are not into the idea of pressure to bill 200 hours a month, they would look at the opportunity as well worth it,” he says. Chamberlain adds that many students come to law school with business experience already under their belt and a goal of a career in which they can have an impact on business decisions.

While HP has one of the world’s largest legal departments, with between 450 and 500 attorneys worldwide, Schuh believes any department with 50-plus attorneys could start such a program—but only with commitment from the department’s leadership to provide the resources for a robust training program.

“We had commitment from the top that we would run our program better than law firms do,” she says. “It’s been a priority cascaded down through the organization. Without that, you are set up to fail.”

Pfizer's Hybrid Model

In September 2011, three new law school grads from Harvard and Yale entered a pilot program at Pfizer that combines in-house and law firm training. It’s an outgrowth of the pharmaceutical giant’s partnership with 19 law firms known as the Pfizer Legal Alliance (PLA), through which the firms get a long-term commitment of work in exchange for abandoning hourly rate billing. They become closely integrated with the Pfizer legal team.

Those relationships helped spawn the PLA Junior Associate Program, which Pfizer Assistant GC and PLA Chief Legal Counsel Ellen Rosenthal says addresses the growing need for lawyers with special skills unique to in-house lawyering.

“We are recognizing that in-house counseling is a very specific kind of lawyering,” she says. “You don’t just take someone from a law firm and pop them into a legal department. It’s a whole different skill set. So why not train them from the start?”

In conjunction with three of its PLA firms—Skadden, Ropes & Gray and DLA Piper—Pfizer is doing just that. This month the first three junior associates will complete six months of working at Pfizer and then will spend six months at one of the firms. Next year, they will repeat that rotation. Throughout the program, Pfizer pays their salaries. At the end of the two years, the students can choose to work at Pfizer or at one of the firms.

“In either case, both Pfizer and the law firm win,” Rosenthal says. “If they go to the law firm, we have someone there who knows us well. If they come here, the law firm has the same connection. And the young lawyer has the benefit of understanding both worlds.”

Pfizer developed a two-day orientation program for the junior associates, including discussion panels on what it means to be an in-house lawyer and understanding your client, writing courses, and training in reputation management and public speaking. While planned for the junior associates, the program was expanded to all lawyers hired in the previous two years.

The junior associates also participate in formal training at the law firms while working at Pfizer, attending sessions with the law firm’s new associates that are most relevant to their work at Pfizer. Each of the junior associates has a supervisor, a juniorlevel manager who benefits from the opportunity to supervise a young attorney, and mentors from another Pfizer department and from the law firm where they will be working. So far, the program is a resounding success.

“We were very excited when we created the program, and it has exceeded our expectation in terms of the level of work the associates are doing, the contribution they are making and the enjoyment they are getting out of the program,” Rosenthal says. “Pfizer lawyers have enjoyed their incredible enthusiasm and their willingness to jump in and take on pieces of a big project that are appropriate for them.”

This fall, Pfizer plans to recruit the next group of junior associates who will start in 2013, though the number has yet to be determined. It’s a critical part of the process.

“The key is to bring in the right people,” Rosenthal says. “We are looking for people interested in business, teamwork and working in a complex environment where they are not part of an army of associates who march with the army. They have to be willing to take the initiative.”

Mark Weber, assistant dean for career services at Harvard Law School, sees the program as a win for the legal department, which gets a pipeline of junior lawyers at reduced rates, for the law firms, which gain a closer client relationship, and for the graduates, who benefit from working as both inside and outside counsel at the outset of their careers.

“For me, it’s like the Post-it note,” he says. “I wish I had thought of it because it makes so much sense.”

Continue reading to learn about four lawyers who headed directly in-house after law school.

Path Finders: Four lawyers who bypassed law firm training on their way to an in-house career

Very few lawyers make it to the corporate world without first spending several years at a law firm. While a handful of large companies are starting to train in-house lawyers directly out of law school, most in-house attorneys without law firm experience had to forge a path to the law department door. The following profiles tell the stories of four attorneys who went straight from law school to corporate jobs.

Jack Rossi, JetBlue

Jack Rossi was on a military leave from Brooklyn Law School, serving in Iraq with an aviation unit of the New York Army National Guard, when he met an officer whose civilian job was at JetBlue.

Rossi’s goal was to work in business law in the aviation industry, so when he returned to law school in January 2006 his Army friend arranged for him to meet JetBlue’s general counsel, James Hnat.

“We hit it off right away, and he offered me a law internship that spring,” Rossi recalls. “They made it clear right away that the internship was not designed to be a recruitment tool. They had never hired an intern, and had no intention of doing so.”

But Rossi made himself invaluable, jumping in to pick up work for which the attorneys either didn’t have time or interest. As a result, his internship was repeatedly extended. Although Hnat encouraged Rossi to apply to law firms and follow the traditional route to an in-house career, as graduation approached in 2008 he offered Rossi a job.

“Some of it was hard work and networking, and some of it was luck that I found a place that was a good fit culturally for me,” Rossi says.

Because the company had never hired someone straight out of law school, it had no training program. Instead, Rossi rotated around the department to learn all practice areas from the dozen or so attorneys. When the attorney who handled corporate real estate and airport affairs moved into a business leadership role, Rossi had the experience and contacts to step into the job on the interim basis, and eventually as a permanent assignment.

Rossi understands why GCs don’t want to train law school graduates. Even Hnat views Rossi’s case as a unique situation and hasn’t hired other interns.

“There is no arguing with the fact that you put more work into them than you benefit from short term,” Rossi says. “But my case proves that if you find the right person and invest the time in them, and they invest the time in the company, it can really pay off.”

 

Mary Ann Hynes, Corn Products International

Almost all general counsel trace their career paths back to law firms where they worked after law school. But Mary Ann Hynes is an exception. The day after she graduated from John Marshall Law School in 1971, she joined legal publisher CCH as a law editor. CCH didn’t have a GC or a legal department—its CEO handled legal and business affairs at the same time.

After receiving her LLM degree in taxation, Hynes sought out special assignments with the company’s business units where she could put her legal skills to the test. So when the CEO stepped down and a marketing person took the helm of CCH, Hynes was well-positioned to represent the company on legal issues, first as assistant secretary and counsel. One year later she was named CCH’s first general counsel, becoming the first woman to hold the GC position in a Fortune 500 company.

Hynes had to chart her own course. “I made it a point to train myself, to stay up on issues and learn different fields of law,” she says. She also earned an MBA degree, which has helped her successfully handle the GC’s dual role of legal and business adviser and positioned her for exciting career opportunities.

Since her path-making role at CCH, Hynes has been general counsel at Wolters Kluwer, Sundstrand Corp. and IMC Global Inc. Her current title is senior vice president, general counsel, corporate secretary and chief compliance officer at Corn Products International. Throughout her long career in diverse industries, she says she has never encountered another GC who didn’t first work in a law firm.

“It was an extremely unique career path,” she says, but one about which she has no regrets. “I loved the way I did it.”

Cesar Alvarez, HP

Cesar Alvarez was working as a journalist in San Francisco when he became fascinated with the privacy issues of a wired society. He enrolled in the University of California Berkeley School of Law intending to specialize in IP and cyber law. Specifically, he aspired to work for a technology company producing consumer products that would use privacy as a differentiator.

When the Berkeley Technology Law Journal website ran a recruiting ad from Hewlett-Packard’s law department, he knew right away this was his dream opportunity.

“It was right up my alley,” he says. “It would allow me to go straight to a high-technology company instead of working in more general law first and then trying to get into a technology company later on. I went for it as hard as I could.”

HP was recruiting at Berkeley and other law schools in fall 2009 when the weak economy had law students scrambling for jobs, so there was lots of competition. But Alvarez was one of four students chosen to start work in September 2010 as part of HP’s pioneering hiring and training program.

Alvarez works with commercial attorneys on contracts and transactions. The program is designed to give him maximum exposure to the business, so he can accept assignments from any product group. His training has included live and online courses and several boot camps featuring speakers from HP businesses around the world. As he got integrated into the department, the level of work ramped up quickly.

“Work I thought I wouldn’t do for two years I was doing in six months,” he says, including leading the sales negotiation with a large financial client. While that and other assignments have been a challenge, he says he always gets the resources and support he needs.

“What has impressed me is the amount of time the attorneys have put forth for our education,” he says. “A lot of the people are really busy, but no one has ever said, ‘I don’t have time to explain this, just do it.’ Every assignment is given with a context and war stories attached.”

 

Pritesh Patel, Advanced Scripts

Pritesh Patel fully expected to follow the traditional path of spending several years at a law firm before reaching his goal of working inhouse. By his third year in law school, he had a job lined up at a firm where he had been a summer intern.

But a few months before he graduated from Thomas M. Cooley Law School in 2008, the law firm dissolved, and Patel started scrambling for a job. Linder Legal Staffing in Chicago, which handles contract attorneys, offered him a temporary stint in Corn Products International’s legal department.

Patel’s contract job was helping with due diligence on a merger that fell through, but through hard work and persistence he parlayed what was supposed to be a six to eight-week assignment into a three-year stint, gaining experience in many aspects of in-house legal work.

With just five attorneys at Corn Products’ headquarters, Patel realized there wasn’t time for much handholding.

“They were really busy but were always open to questions, and I had a ton of them,” Patel says. “Sometimes they were so wrapped up that I had to be independent and self-sufficient. Google was my best friend.”

He realizes he missed out on valuable training that law firms offer, and attributes surviving this “trial by fire” to self-motivation. “I constantly wanted to prove my abilities not only to my colleagues but also to myself, and it was a driving force behind my tenure there,” he says.

While Corn Products GC Mary Ann Hynes feels it’s impractical for a small legal department to hire a recent grad, “taking someone on a temporary basis [as she did with Patel] may change your mind. He had a real spark, and he did a great job.”

Patel was just starting to feel comfortable at Corn Products—“it was close to my dream job,” he says—when another opportunity fell into his lap. An investor he had met through networking asked him to help with legal work on a startup, which turned into an offer to be president and chief legal officer of the new specialty pharmaceutical services company, Advanced Scripts. He started in August 2011, just three years out of law school.

“It’s surreal to think about sometimes,” he says of his rapid career trajectory.

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Mary Swanton

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