Put another notch in your belt — part two

LegalJob was recently asked the career questions below by a young government lawyer.  This post contains two more questions and the answers that follow can apply to government service as well as any first or second legal job out of law school.

For non-litigators is a private law firm or an in=house position better? Does it depend on the type of work I want to do? What if I want to change my practice area?

  • Better is going to mean different things to different people.   Both could be great or terrible.  Consider the following items:
    • Selling.  Law firm will likely involve more selling from day one until you leave.  You sell yourself to get work from partners (your inside clients) and later outside clients.  In-house will generally involve less selling since there is just one client and no billable hour.  However, you may have to compete with folks in your department.
    • Generalist vs. specialist.  The law firm may require you to be more of a generalist (as you take projects that come up).  Depending on the company, that role as a generalist could apply to the in-house position too.
    • Opportunities to grow and develop as a lawyer.  The law firm may have more training opportunities.  However, you could be groomed in-house to take over for the lead counsel.
    • Opportunities to move up and make more money.  The law firm offers partnership if you can make it.  In-house may lead to management in the company, which could be lucrative.

For non-litigators, what kinds of experiences should I have before I leave the government?

  • Obviously, this answer depends on lots of facts, including your experience level and your preferred area of specialization (even within a certain practice like tax).  In general, you should seek to:
    • Maximize your opportunities for heavy lifting which is generally available in government jobs
      • Run several projects
      • Be responsible for something written that is published or filed, etc.
      • Write articles capitalizing on your experience with esoteric issues while the subject is fresh in your mind
      • Develop a specialty within a practice area that has two or three current issues that everyone is talking about so it will be easy to market
        • For international tax, for example, know the inner workings of FATCA (including the history and everything published on the subject)
        • For employment law, know the NLRB proposed rule on union related elections (including the Senate's attempt to pass a motion to disapprove)
      • Save accolades (of all types including e-mails, notes on memos) for jobs well done (you may want to reference later
      • Think about who could provide you a meaningful reference and what they could say
      • Keep a list of all projects you worked on, how you contributed, and what the outcome was
      • Show a pattern of seeking additional responsibility (go for higher job, request additional work)
      • Try to manage someone or several people on one or more projects
    • Write as much as possible to develop this critical skill
    • Take advantage of discounted or free continuing education classes in substantive areas or classes that teach you how to write, talk, or use soft skills necessary to advance
    • Seek out mentors at the job or those who use to work at the job (preferably one that can teach you how to be a better lawyer and one who can provide you ideas for marketing yourself and career advancement

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