Is a move to an in-house legal role right for you?

Working in an in-house legal role is a long-term goal held by several solicitors currently in private practice. For many, it’s a ‘grass is greener’ type scenario; the rumoured benefits of working in the legal team of a single company have an almost mystic allure. But are these benefits all they’re cracked up to be? Is moving in-house always the right decision? And is the move in-house right for everyone?

The in-house environment strips away many of the stresses of private practice, and perhaps this is why it can be so tempting. Not only do time recording and billing targets disappear when working in-house, but so too does the need to go out and generate new clients and business. Therefore, the in-house environment comes with less pressure than private practice, and often, an improvement in work-life balance because of these reduced responsibilities.

When it comes to remuneration

In-house roles can also offer a higher salary than private practice roles, particularly when comparing regional roles, and when the lawyer has a lower number of years PQE. Not to mention, in-house typically comes with perks such as healthy bonuses, health insurance, and car allowances, which push the disparity further.

Because they’re effectively working for only one client, an in-house lawyer can become an expert in their company. An in-house lawyer can fully grasp the needs of their company, develop a better understanding of business objectives and strategy, and take a legal approach fully in line with these goals. In-house lawyers can also see the longer-term implications of their legal advice, which can often feel more rewarding. However, working in this much closer alignment with business objectives requires commercial acumen, and the ability to keep commercial objectives in mind, as well as legal ones.

Greater variety of work

In-house lawyers are typically part of very small teams, and must often provide ad-hoc legal advice to any number of business areas. For those who find variety energising and exciting, this is a clear advantage over the specialisation inherent to private practice. Depending on the industry their company operates within, and the scale of its legal team, in-house lawyers could work on anything from commercial to employment to property law matters. This offers a far more rounded experience for those who find working solely within one area of law monotonous.

However, for lawyers with a passion for a particular specialism, or for whom gaining mastery over a particular area is fulfilling, the ‘jack-of-all-trades’ nature of in-house could be frustrating. Private practice can offer the opportunity to specialise in an area of interest, build layer upon layer of expertise in one area throughout a career, and become an authority in a certain niche.

Greater opportunities for progression

In-house legal teams are generally small and relatively flat, offering fewer rungs on the ladder to climb up to with the eventual lure of GC. This can have its advantages; for example, the significance of having a certain number of years of PQE is less significant in obtaining an in-house position than the demonstrable ability to do the work. However, it does mean that there can be fewer career milestones for an in-house lawyer to reach, in contrast to the regimented progression structure from assistant solicitor to partner available in most law firms.

Ultimately, a move to an in-house legal role comes with a large number of advantages and can be a fantastic opportunity for many lawyers. However, they need to understand the realities of both environments and decide which they will find the most fulfilling. If the time-keeping/billing targets and pressures of private practice have taken their toll on a lawyer, and the perks, salary and variety of in-house appeal to them, then it could be worth them making the move. But if mastery of a specialism and progression to the partnership are most important to them, then private practice may be where they belong after all.

If you want to have a confidential chat about potentially making that move from private practice role to in-house legal role, please reach out to Hayley Rose at Harvey John.

Hayley Rose is a Director in the Legal Division at Harvey John.

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