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Leaving BigLaw and Transitioning to In-House in a Pandemic

Sept. 29, 2020, 8:01 AM

When I became a BigLaw partner, I figured I was set for life. I was finally a leader, an equity owner in the firm, achieving what I had been told since law school was the pinnacle of success.

However, earlier this year I gave up partnership to lead a defense sector client’s legal department, drawn to what I felt would be a great new career adventure. And while making the jump during a pandemic has posed challenges, there has not been a single moment where I have looked back and second-guessed my decision.

I Still Have Clients—Lots of Them

Some may think that going in-house is a low-key nine to five experience, but that has not been the case. Sure, I am not spending all my free time marketing, pitching, or strategizing on how to generate new clients. But that time is more than made up for in mastering the job, learning the company’s different products and operations, reacting to issues that require immediate attention, and at the same time making my long-term mark on the legal, compliance, and contracts functions.

There is more than enough work to make this job all-consuming, and with NS2’s trajectory as a fast-growing provider of secure cloud and support solutions this trend will only accelerate. As with any job, I am constantly deciding what to handle personally, what to delegate internally or to outside counsel, and how much expertise I can bring to an issue.

The role is a constant exercise in triage, time, and resource management, whether it’s government contracts, corporate transactions, employment law, intellectual property, or anything else that comes up.

As for not having “clients”—it is true that I am no longer handling multiple matters for different clients. But with a company of 800 employees and counting, I consider myself answerable to 800 different sales, marketing, human resource, software development, and other personnel, all with different needs but working toward a common goal of supporting our customers.

A true open door policy means that anyone with a legal or compliance issue must be able to expect premium-quality legal advice and around-the-clock availability. Far from being insulated from clients, I feel more like a practicing attorney and business advisor than ever before.

Managing a Department Is Different Than Managing Associates

Supervising and mentoring law firm associates was always a great part of being a partner. I was fortunate to work with outstanding associates throughout my firm career. I was also lucky to have great mentors, and I believed paying it back to young lawyers was an essential part of the job.

However, supervising law firm associates on a per-project basis is very different than managing teams of corporate lawyers, paralegals, and contract specialists. I am now responsible for every team member’s work product, career development, workflow, compensation and morale.

It is up to me to ensure our teams are trained, responsive to stakeholders, and getting the opportunities they want. I need to be certain they are working hard (but not too hard) and know they are appreciated and respected. And, due to Covid-19, I must do all this without meeting anyone in person.

Another challenge is with managing non-lawyers. I know the life cycle of a successful attorney—where you should be five, 10, 20, and 30 years out of law school. I know the career milestones, credentials, and public and private sector opportunities that can make a lawyer’s career, and I feel comfortable mentoring young lawyers on how to get there.

But managing a team of finance and business professionals means a whole new challenge of not just understanding their jobs but also how to advise them to succeed going forward. And, again, all while restricted to Zoom meetings for the foreseeable future.

My Coronavirus Networking Strategy

Starting any new job is tough, and changing the trajectory of a career is even tougher. Doing it during a pandemic and onboarding completely remotely is quite the challenge.

A typical pre-Covid-19 day at the firm included a business development breakfast, a networking lunch, client calls and work in between, possibly a TV or radio interview in the afternoon or evening, and more work shoulder-to-shoulder with the team well into the night. Now, I spend 14 hours a day confined to my home office, jumping between calls every 30 minutes.

To compensate, I’ve adopted a “one plus one” strategy. Every day I introduce myself to at least one new NS2 colleague. At the same time, I connect daily with at least one existing or new contact at a firm, in-house, media, or some other career touchpoint.

It’s all too easy to keep one’s head down and work, especially when learning a new role and working from home. But that cannot take the place of internal and external networking, particularly since a return to normal is still months away.

Moving Forward

While I would never trade away the experience of having been a law firm partner, this new career path is as exciting, challenging, and rewarding as I had hoped.

Under the leadership of CEO Mark Testoni, I am proud to be part of an organization that places our colleagues’ health and well-being front-and-center, is committed to a respectful and diverse workforce that recruits and promotes the brightest talent, and serves the greatest national security customers in the world.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. or its owners.

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Author Information

Joseph Moreno (@JosephMoreno) is the general counsel and chief compliance officer of SAP National Security Services (SAP NS2®) based in Herndon, Va. He was previously a global litigation partner at Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft, served as a federal prosecutor with the Department of Justice, and is a U.S. Army combat veteran.

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