In-house vs Private Practice - which type of training contract is right for me?
A training contract is the typically two-year long programme that you will typically need to complete to become a qualified solicitor in the UK, which sometimes can be completed in 18 months. Training contracts come in two forms – namely in-house or private practice. But how do you know which one to choose to kick-start your legal career?
Here we provide an overview of the two pathways and help you decide whether an in-house or private practice training contract is the right option for you.
In-house vs private practice – what’s the difference?
Private practice training contracts are provided by law firms. As part of your placement, you will be working for a private practice gaining your first real experience of what it is like working in the legal industry. You will represent and interact with a broad range of clients throughout your training contract.
On the other hand, in-house lawyers often work in the legal department of a larger business, although sometimes traditional law firms offer in-house opportunities, in which trainees act for the firm, not its clients. Solicitors on an in-house contract are responsible for dealing with all of the company’s legal matters. Their only client is their employer (or group of businesses of which their employer is part) and need to be ready to handle any legal issues that may arise.
Depending on your interests and work-life preferences, you will want to pick a training contract that suits your needs the best.
I don’t want to specialise in a particular area of law yet...
At the beginning of your legal career it is difficult to decide which area of law you want to specialise in. If that is the case, you may wish to pursue an in-house training contract.
Within a private practice, you will usually complete four seats within specific departments that deal with certain practice areas. This will allow you to develop expertise in particular areas of law, putting you in a good position to become a desirable candidate for similar law firms in the future.
However, in-house lawyers are more generalist in their approach. As one of their employer’s legal representatives, they have to handle all the legal issues that the company faces - regardless of what aspects of law they concern. Therefore trainees have to be willing to adapt to meet their employer’s needs and become adept at managing a wide range of legal matters.
I enjoy being part of a larger project…
Private practice solicitors deal with a variety of clients simultaneously. You are usually involved with multiple cases. While this can be exciting, it means that you do not necessarily see the end result of all your work.
As an in-house lawyer, you become invested in your company’s success. Over the course of your training contract you will have the opportunity to see the difference your work as a solicitor makes. As a valuable cog in the business, you may also be involved with decision making in the company.
I value a good work-life balance…
It is commonly known that employees at private practice law firms can work long hours. Even though private practices pay better, the pressure to please clients and meet their needs means that solicitors may sometimes work well into the night.
In-house training contracts can offer a much better work-life balance with more sociable hours. As there is only one client and you cooperate with non-legal departments, you may not be required to work hours that are well-beyond the ones specified on your contract – although the amount of clients in-house does not always link to the hours worked. One client might need particularly high levels of attention, for example, or international clients could mean travel and accomodating different time zones.
Within a private practice firm, you may be paid a bonus based on the amount of hours you bill. Indeed, working longer hours may even come with a financial incentive.
In-house and private practice training contracts offer quite different work experiences. It is up to you to decide which one suits your career and lifestyle the most.