When I was working in Big Law, partners and associates sometimes looked at in-house counsel as those who couldn’t make it on Bay Street. In-house counsel were the weaker lawyers, the ones who couldn’t compete, or the ones who could not handle the long hours. Lawyers went in-house because they wanted work life balance. In fact, articles are written about women leaving Bay Street and entering in-house practice because they just can’t put in the hours anymore.
When I left Bay Street and went in-house to a client, I feared that I was entering the “Pink Ghetto” that so many lawyers had warned me about. “In-house is where women go, it’s easier.” I had no idea that this was the beginning of an AMAZING legal experience. In fact, most lawyers don’t realize that in-house lawyers at most corporations work long hours on complex legal issues, with limited budgets to hire outside counsel. An in-house job requires a completely different skill set, mindset and the ability to wear many hats.
More importantly, the “Pink Ghetto” is a complete misnomer. Most of the in-house counsel I know are men. They are counsel at Google, the Motion Picture Association, the TSX and the NHL among others. Of the 19 students I articled with, only six remain anywhere near Bay Street. More men than women went in-house. An equal number of men and women stayed in private practice and more men than women left the law entirely.
Sometimes outside counsel asks me why I went in-house, why I would stunt my career growth and my response is always the same. Right now, I want to know more than Section 23 of the Income Tax Act, or Section 12 of the Copyright Act, I want to work with a company, with a vision and a mission, and I want to use my skills to advance a goal. There is value in being a specialist. So many smart, talented lawyers are specialists. And even I enjoy applying my specific legal knowledge in business law, in IP law and in international trade law, but I also enjoy being a versatile lawyer and one that fully comprehends my client’s needs.
I want to use my business acumen, give strategic legal advice and be a trusted member of a business team. I don’t want to work in an ivory tower where I give my clients yes or no answers. At this point in my career, I really want to understand my client’s business and focus on helping them do what they do more effectively and efficiently.
I do not work in the Pink Ghetto. My job is not easier or harder, my hours are not shorter or longer, my skills are not better or worse. I am General Counsel. My work is interesting, challenging and rewarding.
I do not work in the Pink Ghetto because it only exists as a cultural construct that no longer has a place in our profession.