St. Francis School of Law will be sponsoring two upcoming sessions for its Juris Doctor students to provide insights into what it is like to work as in-house counsel, also known as a corporate counsel. James Woodruff, former VP at Wells Fargo, will talk with St. Francis students about his experience. Kevin MacDonald, Asst. General Counsel for a division of Volkswagen, will speak to the same topic from a consumer attorneys’ perspective.
What is it like to practice law as an in-house or corporate counsel? An in-house attorney has just one client, typically a corporation or partnership. As in-house counsel in this setting, you work closely with senior management of the company, and typically become very invested in company success. You will grow to understand every facet of the business from top to bottom. You will think in terms of how to move the company forward.
An in-house counsel may work with a specific division of the company, and work closely with the managers of the division, if the company is particularly large. You may have responsibility for management’s programs designed to promote compliance with the law, and may help design and implement those policies. You may also be responsible for receiving reports of wrongful conduct. You could be conducting investigations, reporting the results to management, and rectifying things, as well as preventative training.
Many in-house counsel work extensively with outside counsel throughout the country and internationally in managing transactional deals or litigation. You may have the opportunity to work in mergers and acquisitions, negotiating and documenting important issues. Or you may work with outside counsel in strategizing as to litigation, overseeing the work of outside counsel, and perhaps participating in settlement conferences. Often in-house counsel is searching for lawyers in a particular geographic area, or lawyers with particular expertise, for example, a bankruptcy lawyer in Delaware. In-house counsel form relationships with outside counsel all over the country, depending on where the company is doing business.
Corporate in-house counsel may also be called upon to assist in a crisis, such as a data breach, working with the company to comply with its legal obligations in such situations. Such a role may require familiarity not only with federal data security regulation, and FTC actions pertaining to data security. In-house counsel in this role must also be familiar with foreign guidelines, which are increasingly moving in the direction of requiring notification. You might be charged with creating or modifying security breach response plan, as well as implementation of the plan.
In-house attorneys working for publicly traded companies also advise them on compliance with securities law, including corporate filings and reports, as well as press releases. Publicly traded companies must file regular reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission involving the financial status of the company, among other information. There are many federal and state laws and regulations designed to control many aspects of a company that is publicly traded. Some in-house attorneys specialize in this area of the law.
Although some attorneys went to law school to avoid numbers, understanding data pertaining to the business operations is critical to the success of an in-house counsel. The same is true with accounting, which is important to the success of in-house attorneys. The company will need legal advice on important tax and accounting issues.
Becoming a corporate counsel is one of the many careers available to St. Francis School of Law graduates. For more information, click here.