Brittany A.’s Answer
You've asked some great questions! I will answer them based on my personal experience. Sorry in advance that my response is kind of long.
Yes, companies do need full-time lawyers. The legal profession is changing and more companies are hiring their own lawyers to save on legal fees instead of always hiring lawyers at law firms (a.k.a. outside counsel). These company lawyers, or in-house counsel, give companies advice on day-to-day issues like buying products and services. Companies definitely still use outside counsel for bigger or more complex legal matters like lawsuits or complying with new laws or regulations, but not so much for day-to-day operations.
In my opinion, that is the biggest different between being an in-house lawyer versus a firm or outside lawyer. Companies may hire in-house attorneys who can deal with general issues (a.k.a. generalists) or they may hire in-house attorneys who are experts in certain areas like litigation or transactions (contract negotiation). Depending on how big a law firm is, a lawyer can become an expert in one subject area (have a niche practice like technology law) or become someone with a firm knowledge base of multiple areas (like knowing about wills and estates and elder law issues because they can relate or overlap with each other).
I am no longer with my company but I really enjoyed working as an in-house lawyer. I worked as a generalist so I dealt with legal issues in different areas of law each day (insurance, contract, employment, privacy/data security). I liked it because I had a variety of things to work on and it kept my job interesting.
While many people start out at law firms and then go in-house at a company, I started out at a company for my first law job. Most companies tend to want lawyers who have prior legal experience, but there are some who want young lawyers so they can train them and have them grow with the company. I worked there because I like legal work but I did not want to go to trial. My job allowed me to practice without being in the courtroom and it was willing to take a young lawyer with little experience. Those jobs are out there but they can be tricky to find. It is always good to network in addition to doing regular job applications to hear about good companies that want to hire lawyers. Actually, always network and keep in touch with people you meet no matter your profession. It could put you in your dream job!
I hope this helps!