Moving into a corporate organisation, potentially into a fully established legal team (often known as an in-house move) is highly desired within the market… Particularly for practitioners that have recently completed their “formative years”. A strong trend that we have noticed is that a lot of the practitioners entered the workforce in a top tier or international platform and thus like the appeal of a move to obtain greater work / life balance, take on more responsibility and gain a deeper understanding into the operations of a company.
The Grass is Greener…
An in-house move allows a lawyer to gain experience on the “other side”, and be involved in a broader scope of responsibilities. Traditionally, in the larger firms lawyers can be back roomed or made to focus on particular aspects of a transaction, this means they have less authority and don’t get to fully engage into a client’s portfolio. This can result in less recognition and progression as it limits your technical skillset. On the other hand, an in-house role could allow you to develop a strong expertise within a particular industry, without being overshadowed by a multitude of other experienced practitioners.
Unsurprisingly, an in-house role can also allow you to broaden your skillset beyond just the technical and take on a more advisory approach which could lead to more personal fulfilment. Knowing you are making an impact and having a real sense of adding value to a company and not just burning through transactions will allow you to really notice and be proud of the outcomes of your work.
Although we can certainly appreciate that a move in-house can provide fantastic opportunities and benefits that some private practice firms cannot offer, before making the move, you should consider that there may be implications or alternative options also.
As specialist consultants within the legal market we have seen movements at all legal fee earner levels into in-house roles. A lot of the time practitioners make a move to a large company or in-house team where they can lose their “niche area of talent”. This is a result of their pipeline of work as it may not be as consistent or complex as it once was and can involve a more generalist role focused on the business outcome. Although this may sound like a favourable thing, expanding your practice lines, it may be across repetitive and dull work. In essence, in-house lawyers will always be working for the same client with the direction of their advice or representation dictated from the higher ranks, meaning there is little control on their work or exposure to other sectors.
Much of the attraction of an in-house role is the perceived work life balance, however if the work is not quality work is that really achieving that balance? What should be considered if this is a primary motivator for you is what private practice firms could deliver this, and what firms implement strong workplace flexibility practices which we can inform you on.
The Structural Difference
The lack of structural support may be evident from day one, as most law firms practice in teams or have strong support from legal secretaries and paralegals. In-house teams often do not have the resources or budget allocation that private practice firms have, and if there is a change in the senior ranks or financial stability of the company your job may not be as secure as they may look to outsource legal work.
Furthermore, the lack of sector diversity could impact your long term career path as law firms may not respond favourably to your time in-house. This could impact your ability to return back to private practice as firms often advise a scope of industry sectors. You could also be hindered as progression pathways in-house are often unclear, particularly in the smaller teams with no clear hierarchy to their legal teams.
Before making your first more in-house you should consider what your primary motivations are and what alternatives there may be in the market. If possible, you could try secure an in-house secondment to get a real understanding of how you may operate within a different structure. Knowing that you may have different options to fulfil your aspirations will allow you to take an all-encompassing approach when considering your long term career and not just jump at the next in-house role.