As an in house legal recruiter I am often asked about the prospects and wisdom of moving in house at the newly qualified stage of a lawyer’s career. Questions which typically arise include: Whether such a move would enhance or damage long term career prospects, what opportunities might be available for continuing professional development, and whether it is hard to move back to a law firm if you find the in house life isn’t for you?
My reply to this might seem like a fudge – ‘it depends’.
The detail of your personal circumstances, aspirations and skill set, as well as what particular role is being discussed, all have a significant bearing on whether such a move would be good for you, but there is no generic right or wrong answer.
Initially you must be certain that a move in house is a good move for you personally – hard to establish if your experience in that environment is non-existent. Typically lawyers with some experience of working in an in house environment (legal or otherwise), a secondment at a client, or a previous career in business, have a greater understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of working in house. If you haven’t got such a background and think the in house route could be for you, then talk to as many people as possible in that situation to gather information. Have a read of interviews that have been held with a range of in-house lawyers on BCL Legal’s web site (http://www.bcllegal.com/careers-advice/in-house/interview-tips-and-advice ). Whilst many individuals like the sense of working closer to a business, being more integrated in the day to day running of a company, and working on multi-disciplinary teams (to say nothing of leaving the pressures of billable time recording behind), this more exposed way of offering legal advice isn’t to everyone’s liking.
If a role arises where a client would be interested in hiring a junior / Newly qualified lawyer, you’ll need to find out more about the nuts and bolts of the job. A larger legal team will typically offer greater time/ support to a junior lawyer, as they have the capacity to offer time from the various legal team members. However, might you just be given all the lower level work whilst the more experienced lawyers keep the interesting deals?
Equally the perception might be that a small legal team would leave you exposed with little support. However, there are some notable clients of mine where the Head of Legal of a small in house team has a very positive attitude to training and development (even to the extent of offering training contracts), and would offer you exposure to a wide variety of interesting and complex work, without leaving you adrift, so there really is no hard and fast rule.
However, if the driver for hiring an NQ lawyer is simply because the budget is limited, this is unlikely to offer a thought out long term career plan.
And what about moving back to Private Practice if you find it isn’t for you? We have found law firms generally are very receptive to such a move, as you will often have picked up commercial skills and abilities that are not easy to gain in a law firm. It is also a strong message to give to that law firms’ clients that they have former in house lawyers on the team who ‘understand your situation’.
So if you are thinking about moving in house at a the Newly Qualified stage of your career, and want to know if that would be a good or bad move, the answer really is ‘it depends’.