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In-House vs Law Firm Life - Which Holds the Most Stress

Posted on September 14, 2018 by Law Dawgs | Candidate Services
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There are numerous factors to consider before taking on a new legal position. A few quick examples are work-life balance, benefits, advancement opportunities, and commute time. But, on the totem pole of employment considerations, the figure perched near the top is undoubtedly stress.

Stress can make a job ugly. Employees become anxious and irritable. A stressful work environment may produce arguments and rash decisions. While stress is inherent within the nature of the legal industry, candidates often try to find an employer whose goal is to reduce it. So, when thinking of employers and stress, the question becomes: Is life more stressful while working in-house in a corporate legal department, or does more stress lie in law firms.

No Simple Answer

While we wish we could provide a clear answer to the above question, we really can’t. A large reason is because everyone is different. Some people enjoy fast-paced work environments, while others prefer a more harmonious setting. We all have different personalities. This means that while one person may find a job completely clouded in stress, another person may find the same position easy and peaceful.

Different Types of Firms and Corporations

We also can’t provide a clear answer to the above question because there are many differences among law firms and companies. Law firms come in many shapes and sizes – small, mid-sized, and large. The same holds true for companies. In addition, firms and businesses are located in small towns, major cities, and everywhere in between. All of these differences mean that both companies and firms will differ in stress levels.

Stress Factors for Firms

Maybe we can’t provide a clear-cut answer to our proposed question; but, we can point to the main stress factors for both firms and corporate legal departments. The two most stressful things about firm life are:

  • Billable hours, and;
  • Finding new clients.

These are stressful for attorneys as well as paralegals, office managers, and legal support personnel. Now granted, the two factors may be more stressful for lawyers, but there is definitely a trickle-down effect. As attorneys stress over meeting billable hour requirements and finding new clients, relations with other employees may become strained and demanding. If candidates want a less stressed work life, but wish to work in a law firm, a great tip is for them to search for firms that have no expectations regarding billable hours – or at least, relaxed billable hour requirements. 

Stress Factors for Law Departments

The two most stressful things regarding corporate legal departments are:

  • The nature of the work setting; and,
  • Work hours.

Legal professionals working in an in-house setting will tell you they work in a very fast-paced work environment. This is just the nature of the beast. Employers are tasked with many projects and responsibilities. Several meetings, involving many personnel, are also required to accomplish duties and complete assignments. Further, many last-minute items often arise that demand immediate attention.

Professionals working in a legal department may not be working the same hours as attorneys in a large law firm. However, odds are they’re not just coasting by. Company expectations will likely include that in-house lawyers work more hours than clerks, paralegals, or administrators. But, the latter will also be called upon to spend more time in the office in order to complete difficult projects and meet tight deadlines. Also, climbing the corporate ladder will require all legal professionals to put in more time at their desks.

We are all different. Differences also lie across all law firms and corporate legal departments. Thus, it’s difficult to say whether law firms or companies produce more stressful work environments. While no clear-cut answer exists, the most important thing to do in a job search is to be cognizant of where stress factors lie. Then, candidates should search for firms or businesses that seek to minimize these factors. If you have questions along the way, simply contact LAW DAWGS for help!


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