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Myth 1: It is too early to make the move
Many people don’t think about moving in house on qualification. However, this is an option but it is fair to say that most wait until they have gained at least 18 months experience in practice. Opportunities at NQ level are rare, but we are seeing more and more lawyers make the move on qualification. What is important to consider is the team and organisation you are moving to, and what training and development will be provided to you.
At the junior level it is extremely important to make sure you are developing into a technically competent lawyer. A large or fast growing company with a healthy approach to legal affairs and an established in house team could be better for you than a small company where you might feel too exposed to the rest of the business. Or you may enjoy the thrill of getting stuck in and being highly visible within a number 2 role supporting a General Counsel or Head of Legal.
Law firms are increasingly seeing the benefits of lawyers with in house experience; for one thing you will be much clearer about what clients want from their solicitors. The commercial awareness and business brain you can develop in house just cannot be replicated in private practice.
Myth 2: In house is an easy ride
It certainly is not! The transition from private practice to in house can be incredibly challenging, and there are different pressures to consider. These challenges are not insurmountable however, and you will generally have another more experienced in house team member to support you and develop you as a solicitor. The work/life balance can be better, although it is sometimes not as relaxed and cosy as it may seem from outside. In house lawyers working for a global plc might find themselves needing to be available 24/7 and speaking with colleagues from the US/Japan at unsociable hours. But flexibility in your working hours, and generally having more of a life beyond work during the week (and at weekends!), does tend to be far more valued.
Frustratingly, many junior lawyers who we speak with focus on the negatives of private practice rather than positives of in house. Please don’t get caught up in complaining about law firm BD/billing/political pressures, and think positive! Working in house can be an unbelievably satisfying job for the right individual who enjoys hands on work and a commercial involvement with a business. You will most likely find yourself with substantial influence over decisions, sometimes at a strategic level.
Myth 3: I’m not a commercial lawyer, so I won’t be able to move in house
It is of course true that most in house roles are focused on commercial law, but more important than having this experience is to display the right aptitudes for working in house. You will need to enjoy being highly visible in the business, dealing with an endless flow of urgent queries, and be genuinely excited about not quite knowing what will cross your desk every morning. You will be willing to research new areas of law, will need to prioritise your time to the most important tasks, and be happy to deal with potentially difficult characters at the company who don’t like lawyers to say no!
Not all in house roles have a commercial focus. Increasingly we are finding that the demands of the market can create opportunities for lawyers with other specialities. It can be more cost effective for larger companies to have access to employment, property or litigious advice “on tap” within the legal team, which are moving towards providing as full a service as possible to the business.
So, we would certainly encourage individuals without commercial experience to flag up any interest in working in house. The market we find ourselves in has meant that there is a shortage of candidates who have trained in and qualified into commercial teams over the last few years, and companies are being more open minded in considering for example commercially minded corporate NQs for in house roles.
Myth 4: I will be paid more in private practice
Not the case… Salaries are normally equal to if not better than private practice, especially at the junior to mid levels. Generous pension schemes, share options, bonuses or even a company car can greatly improve your overall package. What is more important than salary (hopefully) is that a move in house is the right thing for you at this point. Have a look around and speak to any friends or colleagues who have experience of working in house, and try to get a realistic idea about what it is like. There are some really exciting businesses across the North West and further afield, and it is clear that no one in house opportunity is the same. This is where we come in. The in house legal team at BCL Legal consists of ex lawyers and experienced in-house legal recruitment professionals, and over 750 lawyers have been placed in-house across the UK since 2003.