As a recruiter focusing on placing lawyers in-house, I often assist lawyers working in private practice who are considering whether to remain in private practice and work towards partnership or alternatively consider a slightly different career, in-house. For as long as I can remember, there has always been a debate revolving around whether it is better to work within private practice or in-house. There has been a large increase in the number of lawyers working in-house in recent years, a trend that is continuing and from my perspective, it seems that a move in-house from private practice continues to be an increasingly popular career option.
The typical reasons for wanting to move in-house are: the greater variety of work; being closer to the decision makers; the lack of financial billing targets and the requirement to focus on marketing activities; the continuity of work and being able to see the fruits of your advice and opinion; being aligned with a product or industry that is of real interest. Perhaps another reason for the continued interest in an in-house move is the greater profile and responsibility that lawyers have assumed over the past 10 years or so. What was once viewed as the safer and less demanding career option for lawyers is now no longer the case. The reality is that those within in-house are under as much pressure and have a working day as long as those within Private Practice.
With an increased emphasis on cost control and the streamlining of legal departments, those in-house need to consider the fact that they remain an overhead whereas those within law firms are revenue generators and can easily depict their worth by the client relationships they hold. Although lawyers do move from an in-house role to private practice, a move in-house is not a temporary decision as moving back to private practice (at a senior level) is often an extremely difficult move to make without a client base to offer the firm in question.
Personally I think it is important for legal professionals to map out the way in which they hope their legal career will turn out, whilst remaining realistic about what is achievable in the current recruitment climate. There is no right or wrong answer in terms of which is a ‘better’ career path for a lawyer embarking on their career as both in-house and private practice offer different elements and pros and cons. What will have an impact on your decision is how both legal departments and law firms respond to a more challenging economic environment and adapt their business models to, respectively, demonstrate tangible value-add to the CEO or remain competitive and innovative in an ever evolving law firm landscape.