In the nearly 11 years since Kelli Taffora graduated law school, she has worked in private practice, for state government and in the private sector. Each area of the legal community had its challenges, she said, but her most recent gig as senior legal counsel at Michels Corp., Brownsville, has been the best fit for her as a mother of three.
Wisconsin Law Journal: How is life as in-house counsel different from that of a private practioner?
Kelli Taffora: It’s been a good change for me. You have no billable hours and I don’t have the need to make partner. Here I get to know one client very well and their business very well and work on those relationships versus serving several different clients. It’s a better balance for me and a very collegial environment. Private practice was just different. There, everyone was working for Foley, but with different clients and on different matters. Here we’re all working for same client.
And with three young kids, there has been a much better balance for me working in-house. Because you don’t have billable hours, you’re working during the business day to get the work done, and at a certain point you can go home and turn off your clock. At a law firm, you may feel the need to turn clock back on at 8 p.m. and on the weekends.
WLJ: What adjustments did you have to make when you switched from private practice?
Taffora: Everything moves a lot quicker in-house. We handle many things on a daily basis. At a private firm, lawyers spend hours researching and briefing an issue. Here, there’s a lot more things and a lot less time. It is hard. I was used to spending all the time needed to get the 100 percent, best, certain answer.
But because in-house is an ongoing business, you don’t have time to wait and you often have to go with your reasoned, best judgment in the time allowed. In my past life, only 100 percent correct would have flown.
WLJ: You also spent some time working in-house for the government, how did that differ from working in-house at a company?
Taffora: When you’re working for the government, everything is for the public good and public tax dollars; so basically, it’s a lot more public. You see the difference in what you’re doing there on a daily basis. In fact, you might read about it the next day in the paper. The work has a much greater impact on many more people.
WLJ: What piece of advice would you give to a lawyer considering going in-house?
Taffora: Do good work for your clients and establish good relationships. Prove yourself as a good lawyer to your clients and work well with them. Companies obviously want to hire attorneys that know and understand their business and can step right into busy in-house roles and take on immediate case loads. They are not going to have the time and resources to invest a lot of additional time in training. It also helps in any job if you are someone who works well with others and can relate to the many different types of personalities you’ll be dealing with as an in-house attorney. Be a good lawyer that works well with others.