Read on for a day in the life of an in-house counsel in NYC…
Job Title: Assistant General Counsel
Industry: Financial Services
From: New York, NY
Salary/Benefits: Ensuring that you are being fairly compensated outside of the lockstep pay scale realm requires real due
My base salary is still less than that of a junior associate in “Big Law”. Bonuses are not guaranteed, are extremely variable and tied to both individual performance as well as that of the company as a whole. Other than in a truly exceptional year, it generally would not exceed five figures for the majority of the population.
There are generally more ancillary benefits than there are at law firms, including a 401(k) match and a modest defined contribution plan. The vacation policy started out as standard and becomes quite generous with time.
Employer Type: Public Company
Employer Size: 40,000+
How Long in Current Position: 5+ years
Highest Level of Education: J.D.
How You Got to Your Current Job: I went to law school with every intent of becoming a public interest attorney, but I still took advantage of the opportunity to spend my 2L summer in “big law” and was truly surprised by how much I enjoyed the work and connected with my colleagues. This was when I first began to seriously consider spending some portion of my career at a law firm. Since I was still uncertain as we approached graduation, I took advantage of a fellowship program that would allow me to take a position at my dream job while preserving the option of returning to the firm. I learned a lot about myself that year and the environments in which I work best. I cared deeply about the subject matter, but found the day-to-day work isolating. Surprising myself, as well as many of those closest to me, I chose to return to the firm and was assigned to the Corporate Finance group.
I eventually lateraled to another firm as part of a group of attorneys and that firm was less of a fit on multiple fronts. Large firms are not monoliths. Even within a firm, your experience may vary drastically from one practice group to another. Also, it may not seem like these firms are especially distinct from one another, but the people and the culture they foster can have a great impact on your (relative) well-being . Unfortunately, it can be difficult to evaluate this from the outside. Within a few years, I knew I had no desire to further pursue my career at this particular firm and would not have considered another lateral move at that point. However, I also wasn’t sure of what I wanted to do next and began the search by casting a very wide net. Quite frankly, the process is tedious and warrants a standalone post that also covers compensation.
I, once again, chose a role that I would never have previously considered. This decision was very much driven by factors – including culture and lifestyle – beyond any particular interest I had in the subject matter, which was nearly entirely new to me. The organization is big enough that in many ways the law department is akin to a fairly sizable law firm and, critically, did not require me to become a true generalist. Yet, my practice is varied enough that it touches on many different areas of law.
Describe a typical day at work:
I lead a team that supports all aspects of a multi-billion segment of our core business. Our customers and counterparts include many of the world’s largest companies as well as the smallest of small businesses, so we are exposed to a broad range of legal issues. While it varies from day to day, we are generally working on “traditional” legal matters such as third
party contracting, regulatory inquiries, legislative activity and, from time to time, M&A transactions as well as business matters such as product development, customer inquiries and marketing and sales. We work with nearly all parts of the business as well as the law department.
Like everyone else, 2020 and 2021 are not representative for a typical day at work for me. Other than my wardrobe, the single greatest upside to working remotely has been the fact that I can roll out of bed after 8:00. I usually check e-mail on my phone before turning on my computer. I’m generally seated and working by 9 or 9:30. Barring any early meetings, this is consistent with when I would arrive at the office most days prior to the pandemic.
I usually have at least a few standing meetings on my calendar each day. One big change I made during the last few months was blocking my calendar for short periods of time in order to get work done. Otherwise, I would have days where I was on the phone for 7 or 8 hours and would find myself with a pile of e-mails to read, documents to review and research to do at 6. However, this was not typical for a pre-pandemic workday.
My standing meetings include meetings with my team as well as meetings with my manger and peers. In addition, I also meet with certain key clients on a monthly basis, which is incredibly helpful for both building relationships and having a handle on their current and anticipated needs. Any other meetings are all ad hoc requests for legal advice that can vary dramatically. I still get new issues I have never encountered before on a weekly basis. Finally, we are generally also invited to attend quarterly town halls for our own department as well as various business segments. All in all, there are a lot of meetings, especially when you also include CLEs, DEI programming, pro bono, etc.
My day is otherwise a mix of the work I choose to keep as an “individual contributor”, which I enjoy because it allows me to continue to be directly involved, as well as administrative matters I have to handle as a manager. I tend to get caught up in what I’m doing, and have now gone three days in a row without eating lunch as of 2:00. I was better about this when we were in the office and would usually break around noon or 12:30.
Pre-pandemic, I would generally work until about 6:30 – 7:00 most days. That is generally still true, but our industry was directly impacted by COVID and in the peak of the crisis I would only break for a quick dinner and a shower before returning to work. That has normalized to some degree and I do occasionally still log on later in the evening, but that is also because it is the best time to get work done in peace.
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