Earlier this month, Young Women in Law hosted an in-house counsel panel where panelists shared advice on making a career transition, as well as their day-to-day experience practicing law. YWL heard from several in-house lawyers with experience across a number of industries including banking, entertainment and publishing, as well as a legal recruiter with in-house experience. The panelists discussed their career successes, the challenges they faced, and when they knew it was time for a change.
Switching from a role in private practice or government can have an impact on both the nature and pace of your work schedule. The panelists shared how the substance of their work did (or did not) change as they shifted to an in-house position.
“I touch on the types of issues that I dealt with all the time when I was in private practice, but a major consideration when my client is the bank or the wealth management lines is the business’ appetite for risk,” shared Jessie Lamont at Senior Counsel at RBC Law Group. “It is not just having familiarity with the blackletter law, but also a detailed understanding of each of the different lines of business and what their objectives are.”
Sophia Javed, Associate General Counsel at The Globe and Mail shared that she had a similar experience to Jessie’s. “In terms of the nature of the work, you’re more involved with the commercial teams. There is more of a business element. You might not always be dealing with detailed legal questions, but you are considering the law and always assessing risk.”
Sophia also told YWL that her pace of work has changed. “When I worked in securities, it was very transactional. There would be a month where there was little work and then all of a sudden there were two months where I was working all hours, having to cancel on people all the time. When I compare that to working in-house, it is more constant. The days are really busy, but you have a better line of sight into the projects that are happening because you have foresight into the business plan and you have a better idea of what to prioritize.”
Victoria Novak, Director, Business and Legal Affairs at WildBrain, had a different experience with her transition. “I moved from private practice at a boutique to in-house. I was doing film and TV production work which meant being with a client from start to finish on a feature film. Now I’m at a media company where I’ve been brought in for almost the exact same role. I’m given projects and properties and I’m there to see them from the optioning stage through to delivery. The shift has been much more in lifestyle for me with the work being practically the same as I did before.”
It can be difficult to know the right time to make the move. The panelists shared their thought processes as they decided to change roles.
“I was pushing ten years post-call,” Victoria explained. “The community starts to notice you. I got a couple pokes two or three years prior about other job opportunities. I reflected on where I was at that point and where I was going. It was eye opening what was available in the industry that matched my skills. My mind slowly turned. It came down to what matched what I liked to do in law. I knew that I didn’t want to leave law.”
Annesta Duodo, Associate Counsel to Music Canada, shared that she did not plan to move in-house right after articling. “A position came up that melded my government experience with my internship experience,” shared Duodo. “I didn’t think I would get a call back because they were looking for someone with two to four years’ experience and I had a year’s experience. It ended up working out. With the training I’m getting in-house, I’m able to do all the things I thought I’d only get to do in private practice. The mentorship was key. It filled the gap that I thought I was missing.”
Orit Sinai, who had a number of roles prior to her current position as a legal recruiter at ZSA, shared her thought process as she navigated her role changes. “A lot of it is intuition and gut. If you’re coming home and you’re unhappy, you need to follow what that feeling is. You have to have some form of excitement, some purpose. When you come home at night, you want to feel good about what you’re doing, where you’re working, and who you’re working with.”
Orit gave some helpful advice to those considering whether to make the switch. “A lot of factors go into what makes a person happy at a job. First and foremost, it’s the people. If you have the most incredible team, it’s very hard to leave those people. That can make or break your day. Compensation, in my opinion, is number two. You want to make sure you’re getting compensated fairly. Then look at your trajectory. You have to consider what the job will do for you in terms of growth as a person and as a lawyer. Last but not least, if there’s a place you want to work, the best person to talk to is someone who has left that company. Look on LinkedIn to see who left the organization, the company or the particular group. Ask them what it was like working there.”
If they were to do it over again, the panelists shared some advice they wish they had before they made the transition.
“Don’t undervalue yourself and trust your gut,” shared Victoria. “If you want the change to happen you need to make it yourself. One of the first people I reached out to was the head of students from the Bay Street firm I articled at who is now a headhunter. We met for lunch and she validated me at the time I needed. She helped give me clarity at a time where I wasn’t trusting my gut.”
Annesta advised others to take the time to fully understand what they offer. “When I was applying, I was held up on the fact that I didn’t have enough experience. I worked with a coach and analyzed what I had done over the previous four years in law and realized that my experience did line up with what they were looking for, just not according to the timeline that they wanted. I also now realize that I’m learning skills in my current in-house role that I thought I could only learn in private practice.”
Are you ready to make the move and wondering what the market is like? Orit told YWL that the market has been hot for in-house jobs since the pandemic. She said that now more than ever, companies are hiring articling students and lawyers in their first few years of practice for in-house counsel positions, whereas in the past, companies looked for at least five years of experience. “The jobs are pouring in weekly. If you are open or interested in hearing about in-house roles, you should connect with a recruiter. Now you can work for a company in whatever city you’re based. Remote working has allowed more jobs to come to the surface,” shared Orit.
YWL would like to thank the panelists for sharing their experience and advice. Making a career change can be a daunting decision, but just know that there is a huge network of people who have been in your shoes and are willing to help you through the process.
Some of the panelists’ responses have been edited for clarity and brevity.
Katrina Kairys practices charity and not-for-profit law at Patel Kairys Law. She completed her undergraduate degree at McGill University and obtained her J.D. from the University of Toronto Faculty of Law. Katrina practiced charity and not-for-profit law at a national law firm for several years prior to co-founding Patel Kairys Law.
Katrina is a director of ACCESS Community Capital Fund, a charity based in Toronto, and she volunteers as a member-at-large of the Ontario Bar Association Charities and Not-for-Profit Law Section Executive. Katrina has authored articles in the Estates, Trusts & Pensions Journal, Canadian Tax Foundation Conference Report and Ontario Bar Association Section Insider.