Why attorneys are leaving law firms for in-house

Leopard Solutions’ released the annual In-House Counsel Survey results which aimed to examine the current landscape and market of general counsel attorneys. The company heard from 473 in-house counsels who shared details surrounding demographics, compensation, job satisfaction, how they evaluate outside counsel, and more. The data provides law firms with valuable insights into their clients’ needs and serves to drive internal discussions in law firms about business development and client retention. For corporations wanting to retain their talent, gaining and understanding the needs and wants of their in-house counsel may help them to consider where there is room for improvement, particularly in the areas of career growth.

Key Findings:

  • 76.3% of respondents cite being either satisfied or very satisfied with their work-life balance in-house
  • 52% of respondents said they would not consider a return to a law firm—and the number of attorneys returning to law firms has dropped since 2022
  • 47% of respondents expressed neutrality or dissatisfaction with career advancement opportunities in their current roles
  • 78% of attorneys who have left their in-house positions in 2022 have moved to another in-house company.
  • 41% of ethnically diverse attorneys strongly agree that their organization is committed to diversity
  • The top qualities that In-House Counsel look for in external counsel include responsiveness (87% rank this as highly important) and legal expertise (85% surveyed rank this as highly important)
  • 64% of women who leave Big Law do not return to a Top 200 firm, and 60% of men do not return to a Top 200 firm. 24% of women and 21% of men are leaving law firms for in-house positions

Why are attorneys leaving law firms for in-house positions?

Leopard Solutions’ data shows that attorneys are leaving law firms due to lack of work-life balance and struggles with billing in six-minute increments. Among the 309 attorneys who left a comment on the survey about what it would take to get them to return to a law firm, the responses firmly indicated that law firm life was overwhelming, that they experienced poor work-life balance, felt a lack of career advancement opportunities, and that working at a firm felt like an unsustainable lifestyle.

Many respondents in the survey cited the billable hour and work-life balance as key drivers for them leaving law firms, and cite more satisfaction in their in-house positions. 15% of our respondents firmly indicated that they would not return to law firms. According to the survey responses and the data findings, law firms may improve retention rates by changing their firm cultures and policies, particularly in terms of work-life balance and flexibility (such as by allowing attorneys to work from home,) and considering moving away from the billable hour. In 2021, nearly 2/3 of all associates that left a Top 200 law firm did not return to another Top 200 law firm. Corporate in-house was the leading destination for those associates, with just over 1 in 5 going to an in-house role, with the primary driver being work-life balance.

Although the age groups most likely to return to law are 25-30 and 31-35 years old, the numbers have dropped since 2021 in both groups. The drop may indicate that this change is due to young lawyers needing a high salary to pay off law school loans, and the promise of opportunities from law firms who are looking to recruit new attorneys.

What is most important to general counsel when hiring outside counsel?

Leopard Solutions’ data shows that the most important qualities in outside counsel are responsiveness (87% rate this as highly important) and legal expertise (85% indicated this as highly important). Respondents also noted that DE&I remains a top factor in evaluating the firms that they choose to work with, which suggests that the values, mission, and initiatives expressed by law firms are important to in-house corporations.

In-house counsel are also seeking true partnerships, and attorneys who are dedicated to their organization. One respondent indicated that they want to work with firms that offer “true partnership, not just [a firm that is] running the meter”. Respondents also indicated that attorneys want to work with firms who can provide practical, business-oriented advice, creative solutions, and business and subject matter connections. Further, they want firms who will keep them in the loop with clear communication, link them with business connections, and have a team of subject matter experts who know about the topic(s) at hand.

Cost had the highest degree of importance among respondents (42% of respondents rated it as very important). On the same token, in-house counsel are looking for firms that will provide them with flexible fee arrangements—which indicates that openness, financial flexibility, and a willingness to align with an organization’s needs is important when evaluating law firms to work with.

Why attorneys are leaving law firms for in-house



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