As BCL Legal’s resident corporate commercial specialist recruiter for Birmingham, this is a question that occupies large parts of my day. I work closely with my colleague Victoria Moore, who is our specialist in-house recruiter for the Midlands and often look enviously at some of the candidates who approach her for positions.
It is fairly obvious that any candidate, who is looking for a new position, is not entirely happy in their current job. If a person is completely happy in their position then there is absolutely nothing that can be improved by moving elsewhere and yet everyday I speak to candidates who claim to be entirely happy in their jobs – they would only consider moving in-house. Which ultimately leads to the question, why? What do you think would be better in-house? The answers we get are interesting;
1) Work/ life balance – the perception that being the client means that you have more control of your own working hours.
2) Involvement in decision making processes, being closer to the businesses
3) Package – perception that the salary and benefits are better in-house.
When recruiting for private practice commercial positions the bulk of applications come from people who are in-house. When asked why they want to move back into private practice the answers we get are usually as follows;
1) Work/ life balance – everyone in the business is your client, often leading to things that you have no experience of dealing with getting dropped on your desk late in the day and requiring an immediate answer.
2) Progression – The limited number of senior level in-house positions available (each business generally only has 1 Head of Legal), means that candidates have often found themselves unable to progress past their entry level. This has a knock on effect on package, with people finding themselves falling behind their peers in private practice.
3) Perception within the business – Moving from being an important fee earner in a business to being a cost to the business can often be a bit of a shock, understandably.
What we find interesting is that, where candidates keep an open mind the things they move in-house for – can be provided in private practice.
Not every law firm has an 8am to 8pm culture. Increasingly, some of them are rejecting this and actively seeking ways to ensure their employees have a good work/ life balance. In some cases these firms pay the same (or better) basic salaries than the firm’s with the longer hours cultures. Perversely the quality of work isn’t always any less challenging. Does every deal really need to be international?
Equally taking a longer term view can be useful. Where do you see your career going? What level of seniority would you like to achieve? Ultimately what would you like to earn? Where is that most likely to happen? Is it worth moving for a slightly better package now, if that compromises your ability to get where you want to get too in your career?
So what to do for the best? Certainly explore the in-house option if it interests you, many people who move in-house never want to come back. But also identify what it is that is taking you in that direction and appreciate that every law firm (and every team within that law firm) have different cultures, different hierarchies and different ways of handling work. They are not all the same and so what ever it is that is driving you, might be solved by looking at another law firm. Remember applying for a job/ speaking to a Partner, isn’t the same as saying that you would accept the position if offered. It wastes no one’s time for you to find out what else is available.