Success Stories

Elizabeth Dalyrimple ( not her real name) Lawyer who transitioned from large frim to In-House.

She made the transition from law firm to in-house counsel for a prominent financial institution. Then she became General Counsel to a hedge fund. In an interview, she talks about how she made the change, and provides insight and tips to others who are looking to make similar moves.

Q: What did you do specifically when you were General Counsel of this fund?

A: I take care of the investor side, such as redemption subscriptions to the fund and assets, as well any regulatory matters…where the fund does business. The fun part of my job is to look at the recent profile of prospective investments together with members of my team who are in London. We look at any prospective investment in a very tight schedule whether the risks are from legal, structural, economic, or commercial. I also run my department, which consists of two other lawyers.

Q: And prior to this you were in Corporate Law?

A: Yes. Immediately prior to this I worked for a year and a half at a large public finanical organization where I was Deputy General Counsel for international business. That was a fascinating time just before the Sarbanes-Oxley [which regulates accounting firms in their roles as auditors of public companies] was enacted that affected…international companies that chose to come to the US and list on a public exchange.. We [were able to] exempt these international companies from some of the provisions of Sarbanes-Oxley. But when it was done, it was time to move on. During my time about 80 companies were listed. But the roster of international companies was over 300. So you interact with CEOs, CFOs and the lawyers at their respective companies when any issues come up while they’re being listed. It was fun and exciting.

Q: It sounds like a tremendous responsibility as well?

A: It was. And it was my first in-house position after 12 years in a law firm environment. So that was a change because you really have to think on your feet and give advice on the very concise time schedules and rely on outside counsel on precise issues. You cannot afford the time to ask open-ended questions and get open-ended answers. You change your mentality quite a bit; that is the biggest challenge in switching from a law firm environment to an in-house position. After a while as General Counsel, you’re on both sides of the fence. So you know how law firms work in terms of their business model, in terms of their focus or lack thereof. You really need lawyers who help you on the pointed expert questions. And I was lucky enough to work with great law firms and great lawyers from my old two firms.

Q: And these two firms are where you spent your first 12 years on the corporate side?

A: Yes. I started in 1991 with a major traditional law firm. in their Capital Markets Corporate practice. And that’s where I learned my basic skills. It was a very exciting time because the Soviet Union was disintegrating and I was a Russian lawyer by training -- so that was when I got involved in a lot of interesting projects and transactions, even though I was a first-year Associate.

I started in New York and moved to London within nine months. A Partner along with a Senior Associate and myself started the European Practice. I worked with great people at the firm and really enjoyed it. The practice that really intrigued me the most was representing soverence in Debt Management and Debt Restructuring. And at the next major law firm the practice that was doing this, had the mandate from the foreign government to restructure their debt at the time. So the process had started in 1991. And I, along with a couple of colleagues and friends at the time, closed it in 1997.

Q: And was it then you transitioned over to the financial institution?

A: Yes. I moved in 2000, after seven years with the firm. In most of my corporate and capital market experience at the firms, because I was trained overseas I was overseeing Associates who were doing European work. So there were all types of matters: joint ventures, arbitration, and litigation. There was more of a geographical focus.

Q: You spoke about making the transition from corporate to in-house. Can you say something more about the differences you encountered and how some of the skills you developed as a corporate lawyer transferred over to the in-house position?

A: That is the biggest challenge. The first thing you notice and learn when you become an in-house lawyer is that you’re put on the same floor with business people. You’re not in an ivory tower anymore. You can’t afford the time to really ponder issues. You need to advise these people [against] making immediate mistakes…so prioritization is very important. You are literally always by their side as a counsel. So there are issues involving the intricacies of legal analysis. And you do it or you do it together with outside counsel.

But, the day-to-day job really involves counseling your client and you really need to be a generalist. If a company calls asking the business person a question and there is some legal issue involved, you need to know immediately how to direct your client to respond to this at the management level. The very experienced business people have been doing this for a while but they like to have counsel by their side to advise them on all sorts of issues. And the issues are not all necessarily legal issues. There are also ethical issues involved.

It is really a transition and you have to have an aptitude for that. So, when you transition into this role, you really need to be open to learning new things. There are a lot of lawyers who think they can do it. But lawyers in firms are also very comfortable in the environment of their office, having time to research issues and step back. You can’t run around not having a perspective. That’s how you grow. You advise the business. You advise the firm. There are a lot of concerns. There are a lot of risks involved.

I learned for the first time what risk analysis was from a legal perspective when I made the switch to in-house. For example, I now had to worry about the company’s trademark and franchise…and other considerations you need to take into account when you advise a client.

Q: What suggestions do you have for lawyers thinking about making the switch?

A: They shouldn’t just do it for the lifestyle change. That seems to be a cliché. You have to be mature enough to be able to sustain the constant advisory role that you would have -- as opposed to being able to step back, think about issues, and research to crystallize an answer that you can then put into an e-mail. This is a luxury that in-house lawyers don’t have when they are bringing value and are really effective. It is a fast-paced environment and you need to be able to see the big picture. Additionally, there are aspects of communication that are particularly important to possess as an in-house counsel -- such as being succinct and precise. It is also important to have sharp analytical skills

Q: How did you actually decide to transition over to in-house?

A: Well, there are two things. One is that I always liked to learn a lot about the businesses I was advising. The second issue for me was a desire for a change in lifestyle. Because I had been doing corporate for a while and as I had a new son, it was difficult to be away so much. The nature of my work in capital markets and the law firm involved extensive travel.

Q: Was there anything that stood out as being particularly helpful to you when making this career transition?

A: My intellectual curiosity about business, the effect and implications of legal aspects on the business, and how I could make it grow…were all prominent in this transition. For example, I was really curious to learn how financial money markets worked. And from that perspective, I had an interest in knowing how I could help as an international counsel.

Q: At what point did you come to the career counseling firm Celia Paul Associates?

A: That was the time when I was making a decision whether it would be wise for me to leave my firm as my Partnership bets were off. But I was ready to leave and I was lucky to get to know Celia and her partner Steve at that very crucial moment, and they were able to give me great guidance. We worked through the pros and cons of leaving. They also gave me some very useful recommendations and tips on how to approach the job search in terms of putting feelers out. I wasn’t being forced to leave the firm and so I had the luxury of time in making this decision. But at the same time, I made up my mind I wanted to leave. And I wanted someone who was experienced in the career change environment to advise me. So they were very helpful.

Q: Was there any portion of the career counseling program that stood out as being particularly helpful to you?

A: Just talking was very helpful. It was therapeutic. In career counseling, you are helped to identify the pros and cons of your situation and options on your transition -- unlike headhunters who have a particular agenda for you. And the counselors get to know you and act as a support mechanism during the process. And this is important; transitioning into a new career is a stressful time that involves a lot of thinking and working.

Q: Is there anything else you want to add for those that are currently thinking about making the move from a firm to an in-house position?

A: Good luck with discovering the skills that help you survive, make a meaningful contribution and add value in the field. After all, an in-house business environment is all about adding value. If a lawyer can add value, that is success. So whatever skills you have that could be used towards achieving that goal, you should develop, rely on, and amplify them. That is a skill in itself to be able to show business people from the start that you are a player, ready to learn and work hard, and make yourself very useful to the business.####


back to Q&A Interviews