Reasons Why Lawyers Move In-house and When to do so
Posted by Nick Allen
It is a path well-travelled: train at a firm, spend some years learning the trade then take that experience in-house. But what exactly is it about a career in-house that is such a draw for lawyers? Furthermore, when is the right time to take the leap? I have suggested answers to these questions below, based on our extensive conversations with lawyers about their reasons for looking in-house as well as conversations with heads of legal teams about what they are looking for and why. A frequently mentioned reason for looking in-house is the difficulty in achieving partnership in private practice. A report compiled by the Law Society in 2015 showed that, for the first time, the number of partners at law firms fell below a third of all solicitors in the profession. That trend does not make for cheery reading to solicitors with partnership aspirations out there. The process of achieving partnership seems unapologetically difficult and many solicitors feel that a change of direction in their legal career is necessary as a result. A closely related point is that many solicitors do not have any desire to progress to partnership and, as such, look in-house. Managing a team, bringing in enough work to feed hungry associates deals, working on transactions or cases and being the technical go-to-person in the team is an incredibly difficult range of skills to juggle and many solicitors seemingly do not have the appetite to dedicate as much time and extreme effort as achieving partnership requires. Following on from this is the fact that many lawyers see an in-house position as a better way to achieve a work/life balance. Having worked incredibly hard in private practice, many in-house positions offer a more realistic approach to having a life and exploring options outside of work (family time being the most quoted). For those who are not necessarily motivated by a lifestyle change, factors such as the breadth of work and proximity to the business are of particular importance. Quite often, the further you climb the ranks in private practice, the more specialised in a particular area of law you become, which can build frustration in commercially mind lawyers who want to maintain an interesting breadth of work. In-house opportunities are far more likely to offer this diverse range of work, with greater access to the business and the ability to be involved in the more commercial aspects of decisions. There can, of course, be a trade-off to the above, with in-house base salaries on average being c.10-15% lower than those in private practice, however many see it as a worthwhile bargain. In addition, with many General Counsel salaries clearing £300,000 (before bonus), there is still enough incentive for those who are financially motivated. So once you have decided that in-house is the direction for you, when should you look to move? Generally speaking, most roles on the in-house market are set between the 2-6 years PQE level. Typically this is because General Counsels or Heads of Legal are keen to attract lawyers to their teams that have sufficient knowledge of their chosen area of law and that also have the general legal, commercial and business experience to be able to quickly understand the workings of the business and what it is aiming to achieve. At the +6 PQE level there can be an issue around how a new hire fits into the company’s remuneration structure and the team hierarchy. This is not a hard and fast rule, as often more senior roles become available, however for the most senior roles, such as General Counsel or Head of Legal, hiring managers will often only look at candidates with previous in-house experience. If any of the above resonates with you and you would like to discuss exploring the in-house market, please do contact us as we would be delighted to assist.