Moving in-house: when's the right time to do so?
Working in-house is becoming more and more popular among solicitors in the UK, according to a Financial Times report. These in-house lawyers work in the corporate field, the government legal service (GLS), Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), the armed forces, local government bodies or numerous charities.
Most solicitors train in private practice before they move in-house, but training contracts are also available in-house and approximately 500 companies are approved to offer training contracts. While it’s possible to train in-house, it can also be difficult, and for this reason many junior lawyers take advantage of the support and training that’s offered more abundantly in private practice.
But before you decide to train or move in-house, you need to know the answer to one critical question: what do in-house lawyers actually do?
A Day in the Life of an In-House Lawyer
In-house lawyers are responsible for the legal needs of the organisation for which they work. The work they do depends on the nature of the business and the size of the legal team. While in-house lawyers essentially represent just one client, they deal with a wide range of legal matters, such as:
• Performing employment and commercial work
• Handling risk management
• Applying their knowledge of copyright and trademark law
• Advising human resources on employee matters
• Assisting with projects and litigation
• Dealing with trade agreements
• Ensuring that company is in compliance with the law
For most in-house lawyers, there’s no average day, and in addition to performing legal work, many help train staff on basic elements of employment, contract and corporate law, along with many other specialisations.
Tips for Going In-House
Here are some tips for lawyers who have ‘grown up‘ in a traditional firm environment but are now interested in going in-house.
Evaluate your skills. Working in-house typically requires a different way of providing legal advice, which in turn demands a unique skill set. You will need to know about the business, the way it works, the culture, its processes, and understand the ‘big picture’ so that you can give competent advice regarding law and strategy. To do so, you must:
- Speak their language.
- Be direct.
- Have the ability to work as part of a team.
- Be able to prioritise, depending on business drivers.
- Know how to find the answers to their questions, based on risk and cost.
Do the maths. The pay and benefits in-house are generally not as good as in private practice. While a junior lawyer might find the compensation to be attractive, the longer they stay in-house, it tends to fall somewhat behind. This is because unlike in private practice, where your pay is generally related to how hard you work or your billable hours, companies have a set pay structure. But this doesn’t necessarily mean the hours are better. In-house lawyers often work harder than their counterparts in private practice because although they don’t have targets and billable hour requirements, they focus on outcomes.
Move when the time is right. If you’ve trained or worked in private practice and are now considering moving in-house, timing is important. Many lawyers will have completed temporary assignments (secondments) with corporate clients before moving in-house, and most work in private practice for at least two years to get experience in commercial law and develop the necessary business expertise that will be required to succeed in-house.
When making the decision about when to move in-house, many solicitors will need to revisit their career goals. Compensation based upon merit or pay scales? Control over the hours worked, or long hours the expectation? Is the ultimate goal ‘Head of Legal’ or ‘Senior Partner?’ All questions should be answered before a solicitor decides to make the leap in-house.