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In-house counsel jobs spark more interest

Maryland law schools are offering more opportunities to learn about in-house counsel jobs in response to increasing interest among students to enter the corporate world.

“It’s a trend in the legal market,” said D. Jill Green, associate director for law career development at the University of Baltimore School of Law. “As the law firm market shrinks a little bit more, we are seeing an uptick on the corporate counsel end. I have seen that over time.”

Reasons for the interest in in-house jobs span from the limited job market to more students concentrating in labor and employment law, Green said. Jason L. Groves, executive vice president and general counsel at Medifast, Inc., a weight-loss company based in Owings Mills, said he thinks many students are attracted to the corporate lifestyle with its regular work hours.

“I think the newer generation of younger people are more geared toward that than billable hours and the legal work week,” Groves said.

At the University of Baltimore School of Law, no classes focus solely on corporate counsel skills, but increasing numbers of students have been taking in-house internships through an internship class at the school.

A few years ago, only two students in the class went to in-house counsel positions each semester. Now the university has at least 13 companies that regularly take interns from the school, Green said.

Groves took one intern, Erika Sealing, 27, a third-year UB law student, in December. Sealing said she did not know anything about working as an in-house counsel before her internship, but said she is now considering a career in the field.

“After being here, I’ve been bitten by the bug,” Sealing said. “I see the light. This type of work environment is extremely gratifying. The challenges are real. They are immediate, and they are very, very interesting.”

Groves said he thinks law school classes often don’t prepare students enough for corporate counsel positions.

“I think a really important part of the profession unfortunately gets overlooked,” Groves said. “A lot tends to focus on the direct litigation style without a focus on corporate counsel.”

Sealing said she thought in-house skills she learned at Medifast were not available in the classes she had taken so far.

“I think the law school is getting better, but I don’t think that’s where their focus is,” Sealing said. “There really isn’t a lot of focus on that in-house corporate kind of environment. If I didn’t do this internship, I wouldn’t even know where to start.”

The University of Baltimore School of Law also offers a shadow day for students to go to a company and follow a general counsel for the day, Green said. This year, 16 students participated, compared with 11 the previous year.

The law school hosts a monthly trip to a lunch hosted by the Baltimore chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel. Green said three years ago, she would send an email about the opportunity to students and would get one or two replies. Now, there is a waitlist, she said.

At the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law, there are also are no designated corporate counsel courses, but the school started offering a business law boot camp last year. In its first year, about 30 students participated in the boot camp, and this fall, 90 have enrolled, a number the school had to cap, said Michelle Harner, co-director of the school’s business law program.

Within the boot camp, there is an in-house counsel segment that is being offered for the first time this year, Harner said

“It will introduce students to what it means to be an in-house counsel and the challenges of in-house lawyers,” Harner said. “When you are in-house, you have obligations other lawyers have, but you have them for one client. There are wonderful benefits and wonderful challenges.”

In the segment, students will participate in a simulation where an issue is raised and they have to think through how an in-house counsel would deal with the problem, said Sheldon Krantz, a visiting professor at the school, who is teaching the segment.

“I do think that law schools, for the most part, do not have much to offer in the way of what it’s like to be an in-house counsel and what the various pressures are on an in-house counsel,” Krantz said. “It was with that in mind that we decided to add the segment to boot camp.”

Harner said because so many students enrolled in the boot camp this year, the school may offer it both semesters in the future.

“There is an increased interest, which I think is very exciting, and we can see where it goes from here,” Harner said.

The school also started offering a business law concentration in fall 2011 and graduated its first two students in the program this spring. About 20 will graduate with the concentration next year, Harner said.

While more students may want to go directly in-house, Groves also cautioned that it is essential for an attorney to gain experience as a lawyer in a private firm before transitioning into a general counsel position.

“It’s hard to appreciate the corporate counsel lifestyle if you have not spent time out in the trenches and in the field where most lawyers are doing work,” Groves said. “It’s hard to supervise something if you have never done it before.”