Some may be aware that mentoring is my jam — and that I set aside time weekly to talk to aspiring lawyers, practicing lawyers, and an occasional nonlawyer professional. A frequent question I get is: “What do you love about being in-house?”
Here’s a nonexhaustive, candid list in case you’re curious too. Of course, I wouldn’t be a lawyer without a disclaimer. Specifically, note that I work for an amazing company with very supportive leadership so my experience may not be indicative of all in-house experiences.
1. Not billing. You can count on me to keep it real, and this may be my favorite thing about being in-house. I didn’t have a problem keeping track or crafting the actual entries or discussing my value with clients. Rather, I despised having a minimum billable of at least 2,000 hours and being dinged on my review if clients didn’t pay for the full amount (aka fee actualization). I hated having my value distilled to six-minute increments.
2. Not having to develop business, Let me be clear — I love building relationships, and I had no problem having a book (albeit small) as an associate. But as the breadwinner of my family and a mom, the necessary time away from my family to further and deepen those relationships was more than I was willing to give. As in-house counsel, I can simply grow relationships because I want to and not because I have to.
3. One client, This is most likely a personal preference — whether you want to know a little about everything or you would prefer to know one thing really well. I’m the latter — which is probably why I enjoy having a specialty (employment law) and why I enjoy going all-in on knowing as much as I can about my one client, the company. Notably, my client is very large — and I honestly don’t know that it’s possible to know everything about it, but I would choose this over knowing a tiny bit about several clients.
4. Closer to decision-making, At the end of the day, clients call the shots, and as a lawyer, I intimately understand my role is as an advisor. At the same time, I prefer to be closer to the decision-making, where I can have more influence and can hopefully prevent litigation over having to simply work on damage control or litigation after something has already been decided or after something has already occurred.
5. Time to read and learn my craft, Maybe it’s just because I’m a very curious person, but I love having the freedom to read, digest, and learn from as many legal articles or CLEs as I want without worrying that it is nonbillable work. I am honestly a better lawyer in-house than I was at a firm, and part of that is from having the ability to learn and being able to see the real-world impact of the law that I practice.
6. Diversity work, There are many firms who value diversity, equity, and inclusion, and I certainly don’t want to take away from any of their important contributions to the profession. At the same time, my experience is that while law firms are generally supportive, the business model still rewards and favors billable hours — and an associate that doesn’t have enough billable hours, despite significant work on the firm diversity committee isn’t one that is going to make partner soon. By contrast, my work on diversity efforts is considered important work (and leadership) by my company, and that is very satisfying.
7. Pro bono, You can copy and paste the paragraph about diversity work here and replace “diversity” with “pro bono.” I would also add that it’s a lot of fun to do pro bono work with the law firms we work with and have them as collaborators.
8. Community involvement, You can also copy and paste the paragraph about diversity work here but replace “diversity” with “community involvement.” I love that my job counts community service — whether that’s packing care packages for military who are overseas or stuffing backpacks for children who are in foster care — all as work. In contrast to being an associate at a firm, I feel very connected to my community as in-house counsel.
9. Getting the opportunity to be creative, Admittedly, it could be because I was a litigator, but I didn’t feel like I could be creative as a lawyer at a firm. Sure, there is litigation strategy. But as in-house counsel, I love being able to take the time to brainstorm with my clients and help them come up with solutions to their problems, legal or not, without them having to worry about my billable rate.
10. Purpose, This may be a tie with not having to bill as one of my favorite things about being in-house. As in-house counsel, I feel more invested in my client’s “why.” It gives me purpose. I absolutely love playing a small part of something bigger than myself — whether it’s the company’s mission, brand, or culture.
Meyling “Mey” Ly Ortiz is in-house at Toyota Motor North America. Her passions include mentoring, championing belonging, and a personal blog: TheMeybe.com. At home, you can find her doing her best to be a “fun” mom to a toddler and preschooler and chasing her best self on her Peloton. You can follow her on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/meybe/, And you knew this was coming: her opinions are hers alone.