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Opening Breakfast: Building Your In-house Career — What’s Different In-house?

A CC’s 2017 Corporate Counsel University kicked off on Thursday, June 15, with an opening plenary that focused on the differences between law firm and in-house practice. Addressing a packed room of 150 people in New Orleans, Louisiana, Saul Ewing Partner Ruth Rawls turned to panelists Erin McCurdy, assistant general counsel of American Eagle Outfitters, and Swata Gandhi, vice president and general counsel of DAP Products, Inc., with questions about their transitions in-house. Gandhi started by stating the most important aspect: to understand the business. McCurdy added that it takes a while. “Be patient,” she advised. It took her four months to figure out everyone’s roles and how they interacted.
Rawls questioned the panel on the political dynamics and how they change in-house. McCurdy said she was shocked when an IT problem wasn’t solved immediately. It was eye-opening because it was the first time she realized that she was not the main driver of the company, as one is in a firm. In order to demonstrate value, the panelists said that they try to be accessible all the time. “I tell my clients that I am available by telephone, email, IM, text, or to just swing by my office,” McCurdy said.
They also addressed prevalent myths about in-house practice. Job security is a myth, according to the panelists. There’s always a chance that your company could be acquired by another company in a very short timeframe. While the differences may appear vast, the panelists stressed that, like in private practice, providing great advice is key, but that in-house lawyers especially need to make a recommendation on a course of action after providing the options.

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