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In-House Lawyers Are Taking Their Business Expertise to Private Practice

By Trudy Knockless for Law.Com

As the landscape of work is changing in the legal world and beyond, in many cases for good, the dividing line between working in-house and joining private practice is wearing thin. In recent weeks, an increasing number of lawyers have moved out of in-house roles to become partners, counsel or associates at law firms.

“In years past, lawyers who were interested in a more regular schedule or sought to avoid billable hours might pursue an in-house role where the primary responsibility was managing outside counsel,” said legal recruiter Maura McAnney of McAnney Esposito. “In recent years, however, lawyers in corporations are stepping up and often taking lead roles in deals; and the difference between the hours and responsibilities of law firm work and in-house work has diminished.”

Within less than a month, in-house counsel for CME Group, Cognizant, Griffin Capital, Magellan Midstream Partners, Continuum Energy, Concho Energy and OPKO Health have all departed for law firm roles — with many joining firms that represented their previous employer as outside counsel.

Ross Pazzol is among the many in-house lawyers who have recently departed for private practice. On Monday, Pazzol left his post at CME Group after five years as assistant general counsel to become partner at financial services law firm Murphy & McGonigle. Pazzol said that, for him, this move means opportunity.

“I certainly enjoyed my time at CME, but CME worked extensively with Murphy, and I was very impressed by them,” he said. “So, I think this is my chance to join a firm that has a very solid group of regulatory lawyers and to help them expand their footprint in their practice in the U.S.”

According to Pazzol, moving to private practice allows formerly in-house lawyers the opportunity to “bring work from their old position with them to the firm that will strengthen any existing relationship that existed between that law firm and that company.”

For Amy Schuh, who left Cognizant in late August to return to Morgan, Lewis & Bockius as a partner, the sentiment was similar. Schuh, who previously practiced law for almost a year at Morgan Lewis, spent the last four years at Cognizant, a client of Morgan Lewis.

Schuh told The Legal Intelligencer this week that her move to Morgan Lewis fills an unmet need at many law and consulting firms “to really bring insider knowledge of how to effectuate a compliance program.” She said coming from an in-house role uniquely positions her to translate legal advice and formal policies into effective compliance systems.

“I think having the ability to speak an in-house counsel’s language has the potential to strengthen client relationships across the board,” she told Corporate Counsel. “The firm makes a genuine effort to really understand the businesses of its clients, and providing an ‘insider’ perspective is a strong complement to that effort.”

Schuh said that while people make career moves for a number of reasons, she did because she wanted a change.

“Morgan Lewis provides a broader platform and with it the opportunity for me to reach more general counsel across industries, including beyond life sciences and technology, where I’ve cultivated my in-house legal and compliance and ethics practice for 15-plus years,” she said.

Atlanta-based law firm Morris, Manning & Martin, too, hired an in-house counsel last week, adding Howard Hirsch, the former general counsel of Griffin Capital, as of counsel in the company’s Real Estate Capital Markets Group.

“There’s a lot of synergy between the way I practice and the way the lawyers at Morris Manning practice,” Hirsch said in an interview with the Daily Report earlier this month. “While we’re out there protecting them on the legal side, you can’t just practice law in a vacuum. You have to look at it from the businessperson’s perspective and by doing so, you’re going to serve the client way more.”

Hirsch previously spent more than seven years at Griffin Capital and its affiliates, most recently as Griffin Capital’s general counsel and previously as chief legal officer and corporate secretary to the board of directors of Griffin Realty Trust Inc.

”Some in-house lawyers move from a corporation to a law firm so they can gain exposure as to how clients resolve problems in different industries, thus adding to their overall value as an attorney,” McAnney said. “Since law firms tend to be larger, and have a wider variety of mentors, a former in-house lawyer can often gain access to new areas of expertise at a law firm, ultimately better serving corporate clients.”

On the flip side, Kathryn Holt Richardson, founder and principal of HR Legal Search, also said that law firms gain deep industry knowledge from a former consumer of legal services because they get wider access to a deeper pool of in-house lawyers, and they often get a lawyer with business acumen that has sharpened in corporate settings.

“I’ve seen in-house lawyers make smooth and successful transitions to law firm settings, including starting with zero in originations and quickly amassing a seven-figure book. For law firms, recruiting in-house could offer a largely untapped pool of diverse legal talent,” Richardson added.

For Eversheds Sutherland, hiring former Continuum Energy GC Alex A. Goldberg this week as senior counsel for the firm’s energy practice group means bringing deep energy industry experience to the table that “perfectly complements” its existing practice in a fast-moving regulatory landscape.

According to McAnney, corporate clients are seeking innovation and efficiencies, and law firms often are in a better position to develop those efficiencies. “As a result, the combination of in-house know-how and law firm resources can help to develop best, most efficient legal practices,” she said.

“The great resignation is here, and lawyers are part of the nationwide trend of shaking up their work lives in unprecedented ways,” Richardson said.