BCL Legal Recruitment
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How often do NQ level in-house solicitor roles come up?

In short, rarely! In fact, in the past 12 months (2010/11) across all of the North West, North East, Yorkshire and the Midlands we know of only 6 in-house roles for NQs.

Clients will often ask for lawyers who already have a minimum level of experience, usually 2 years’ PQE. This may be due to the fact that in-house teams are typically quite small and have less capacity for training and mentoring an NQ lawyer. Or possibly because as an advisor to the wider business you’d be expected to work with senior management teams and an extra couple of years’ experience would be an asset, both in legal and commercial terms.

However, occasionally NQ level roles do arise. And when they do you may need to consider how important joining a small or large team is for you. 

What implications are there?

You might expect a large legal team to offer support and training, but that depends on how committed the line manager is to your mentoring and development.  Likewise, you’d think a small team incorporating a couple of in-house lawyers might not be a good place to start your qualified career.  However, we know of numerous Heads of Legal in small legal teams who act as training principal, and their ‘training focused’ attitude can make this an ideal environment for a junior lawyer.

The other key factor to moving in-house at NQ level is you.  With relevant experience (such as an in-house secondment, a previous career in business or a wide-ranging training contract) and the right aptitude and attitude, making the move at this stage of your career may suit you perfectly.

What challenges would I face as an in-house lawyer?

As part of a comparatively small legal team within a much larger business, you’ll be faced with a constant stream of legal queries from all angles. Unlike private practice where you can pass work to another department if something is outside your area of expertise, you’ll still be expected to provide sound commercial advice and you will be required to apply the law to a wider variety of issues – and understand the commercial consequences of your advice.

- You’ll need to be able to update non-lawyer colleagues (including HR and sales staff) on legal updates that will have an impact on the business, and you should be prepared to cover for your colleagues or be seconded to different parts of the business for special projects.

You’ll need a strong commercial acumen too, as you’ll be making decisions with the people who directly run the business, often directors, and will be expected to offer practical solutions and clear explanations of any legal implications. If a plan’s unworkable, you’ll need to provide a commercial workable alternative.

Adaptability is key – in a constantly changing business you’ll need to be flexible, cope with an unpredictable working day and make decisions under pressure to meet short deadlines.

How should my career progress within the company?

In-house lawyers tend to manage their own careers. Once you’ve moved in-house you can assess your skills, see where you have less experience and source training accordingly. If you’re the sole lawyer you may want to put a business case together to justify growing the legal team with you as manager. If you joined a larger in-house department, you may not get the opportunity for management experience until the incumbent moves on or retires, so progressing your career may mean moving to another in-house role.

A general counsel role in a large organisation needs time served and lots of experience, so you may initially be responsible for a business division where you’d probably report to its finance director and reporting in to the overall general counsel. 

In-house lawyers move between sectors quite regularly, and companies prefer those with industry experience at a senior level rather than those coming directly from private practice – so your first move in-house is crucial. Some lawyers also find commercial, rather than strictly legal, roles within the business that offer a complete shift in career away from the law.

What is BCL Legal’s expertise in in-house legal recruitment?

BCL Legal is one of the UK’s leading recruitment consultancies with a network of offices around the country. We have one of the largest in-house legal recruitment teams in the UK.

The in-house department prides itself on offering a cohesive and proactive service for its clients. First and foremost, it works with only the best candidates on the market, it also offers ongoing recruitment strategy and campaign advice for clients seeking to recruit temporary or permanent staff as well as focused salary survey information. It also stages free CPD update seminars in conjunction with leading law firms across the regions.

The in-house legal recruitment team is responsible for assisting UK companies with their recruitment of in-house lawyers, company secretaries and vice versa, helping lawyers and company secretaries make the move into or across industry legal teams. The primary locations that we focus on are:

  • Yorkshire and The North East
  • The North West
  • The Midlands
  • The South West
  • The Home Counties

Since 2003 we have assisted more than 500 individuals make the move in-house on either a permanent or interim basis. Conversely we have assisted 100’s of companies with their legal recruitment needs.

The majority of clients we assist are growing their existing teams, however we have also been involved in

many first time, head of legal appointments. Organisations we have assisted include:

  • AstraZeneca
  • Avon Cosmetics
  • BAE Systems (UK and Saudi Arabia)
  • Balfour Beatty
  • Bank of America
  • BUPA
  • Carlsberg UK
  • Co-operative Financial Services
  • Covanta Energy
  • Deutsche Bank
  • Forensic Science Service
  • Gazprom
  • Hargreaves
  • HBOS/ Lloyds
  • Home Group
  • ITV plc
  • James Fisher plc
  • Makro
  • Mamas and Papas
  • MolsonCoors
  • Moneysupermarket
  • National Grid plc
  • Nike
  • Opal Telecom
  • Pets at Home
  • Phones 4 U
  • Shaw Energy
  • Smith and Nephew
  • Tioxide Europe
  • TNT
  • UCI Cinemas
  • United Utilities

We hope that all of the above increases our ‘worth’ to the in-house legal sector and makes us your legal recruiter of choice.

Who makes the move?

We have found that lawyers who want to move in-house fall into two camps: the first being the ‘reactive camp’ and the second the ‘proactive camp’. The reactive lawyers are trying to eradicate the parts of their job they do not enjoy. They want to avoid the administration of billable hours or may be bored by the treadmill of deal after deal. They may also dislike the hierarchical nature of private practice and the uncontrollable long hours.

Lawyers in the second camp take a far more proactive approach. They are often seeking a more commercial role, one that will test both their business acumen as well as their technical ability. They want to understand why commercial decisions are made or not as the case may be. They enjoy working with other professionals and having a varied caseload that means two days are rarely the same.

What do clients look for when recruiting an in-house lawyer?

At the very least, clients will look for three key qualities:

  1. Technical legal expertise;
  2. Commercial awareness; and
  3. A personality to fit in the team and business.

How do you increase your chances of moving in-house?

At the more junior end of the scale, you can expect to make your first move in-house when you have gained eighteen months experience and before five years pqe. A department looking to make a senior appointment will usually prefer to recruit a lawyer who already has experience of working in-house. Most roles for the in-house lawyer will require knowledge of more non contentious ‘commercial’ disciplines including general Commercial Contracts, IP/IT/e-commerce, Construction and PFI. Corporate Finance lawyers will also be desirable as long as they also have an interest in/ experience of drafting terms and contracts. AstraZeneca plc, Balfour Beatty plc, United Utilities plc and Isoft plc have recently recruited lawyers in these fields.

There are fewer opportunities for lawyers with Employment law and Commercial Property experience and when a job arises, there is usually a lot of competition. Accordingly you need to register with BCL Legal as early as possible in case your ideal role takes 6 months or longer to surface.

One part of being an in-house lawyer that can put some people off is that you may be asked to advise on areas of law that you haven’t studied since you were at University. It will be your common sense and commercial knowledge that will guide you through but some lawyers don’t want to be put in this situation. Although you are likely to be reporting into a more senior lawyer, you will, at a very early stage be interacting with a number of other professionals throughout the business and therefore an ability to answer a question quickly and with conviction is essential. As for personality – most in-house lawyers are confident and articulate, down to earth, able to develop good rapport with people at most levels; flexible yet focused.

Is working in-house the better option?

I certainly think so but don’t take my word for it. After a month in her new position, a lawyer with five years pqe from a top 10 law firm wrote this:
“…. I have definitely made the right move. I have had fact find meetings with various directors and senior managers over the past couple of weeks (and have some scheduled for this week and next) to gain a deeper understanding of the business, what people want from the in-house service and the current projects etc. I have offered to do a business plan/report for the board in the next month setting out aims and targets for the next 6 months, ideas of processes to be implemented and where I think I can add value. It seemed to go down well, which is encouraging.

Overall, I am very impressed with the business and the people – it is dynamic and entrepreneurial and people are keen to have my input, which was just what I was looking for! I am also impressed with the attitude to flexible working and how well staff are looked after. I probably shouldn’t say this, but to say it compares favourably with my last job would be an understatement – I wonder why anyone still does private practice!

This really seems to be the genuine opportunity I was looking for – many thanks for all your help!”

When’s the best time in a lawyer’s career to move in-house?

Until around 2007 most solicitors making the move in-house did so at around 4 to 6 years’ PQE as this was the level most clients were looking to recruit at. As lawyers' salaries increased dramatically from the 1990s onwards, there was a shift towards recruiting below the 4 year PQE mark which has continued to the present day.

The majority of in-house legal opportunities are now at the 2-4 year PQE level as businesses look to reduce legal costs on two counts – firstly, recruiting more junior solicitors means they offer in-house legal services without the cost of more senior solicitors; and secondly, expanding an already established legal team brings further savings on external legal spend with more of the work done in-house.

So as a rule, moving in-house at around 2-6 years’ PQE is the optimum time. At 2 years’ PQE you’ve gained enough experience to work with minimal supervision and at 6 years’ PQE you’re not yet prohibitively expensive.  

The longer you delay making the move in-house the tougher it generally becomes to make the switch across, as you begin to compete with those who made the transition earlier and so have practical experience working in-house – a huge advantage to recruiting clients. It’s also because the role of an in-house lawyer is very different to private practice – a different job in a different business environment. The longer you put off the move the more sceptical clients can be as to why you want to make the move and your ability to be successful. For a client it can come down to reducing the risk – take a senior lawyer with a proven track record in-house or a private practice lawyer who thinks they’ll enjoy the move in-house and be good at it.

Of course, there are always exceptions. Senior solicitors with specific knowledge and experience can move in-house later in their career. This also applies to those who’ve only just qualified. If you’ve gained experience on secondment or had a previous career as a Contract Manager then you have an advantage and could move in-house earlier. There are also lawyers who train in-house and never cross the fence to the ‘other side’.

In-house – the better place for female lawyers?

At the beginning of the year the editor of Legal Week wrote a blog highlighting theage old issue of women remaining in the law or not as the case may be! Alex Novarese highlights that ‘by most estimates, more than half of the lawyers entering the profession are women, but a commercial law firm that manages to have a 20% female partnership is reckoned to be doing pretty well - over 40% and your managing partner becomes an automatic pundit on female empowerment.’

So are females' chances better served working in-house?

The evidence certainly seems to confirm that they are. A quick analyses of the mix between the sexes at the Head of Legal level in organisations across the regions that BCL Legal serve, (North East, Yorkshire, North West, the Midlands and Home Counties) confirms that the female/ male split is very close to the 50:50 mark.

So this poses the following questions about why the split is more equal in-house.

  1. Are female lawyers more attracted to the role of an in-house lawyer compared to a comparable private practice job?
  2. Are organisations more open to true flexible working patterns and therefore attract more females?
  3. Do females make ‘better’ in-house lawyers and therefore more are likely to make it to the top?
  4. Why are there more males at partner level in private practice?  Are law firms an unattractive work place for a large number of females?

One aspect that we at BCL Legal have observed is that females make the decision to move in-house at an earlier stage in their career than males.

Inspirational In-house lawyers

In-house director, Mark Levine was recently part of the judging panel for the Commerce and Industry In-house Legal Awards to be held at the end of the month. BCL Legal is sponsoring the ‘Young’ In-house Lawyer of the Year category. The shortlist consists of Martin Mosley at Manchester United, Victoria Southern at AstraZeneca and Jonathan Bamber at Liverpool FC.

Quite frankly any of the above could win the award. For lawyers with maximum 6 years PQE they certainly have and are achieving great things.

1.Having trained and qualified with Pinsents in 2005,Victoria Southern moved to AstraZeneca at the start of this year. At only 6 years PQE she has the lofty title of Global Privacy Officer – giving her responsibility for data protection issues across 101 countries! Although not responsible for the US she has had to deal with incredibly challenging issues building trust in a short space of time with senior members of the US business. As her nominee conveyed: ‘Victoria is rising to the challenge, not just as a result of her overall knowledge of privacy law but also her ability to translate this knowledge into practical, effective advice’.

2.Martin Mosley trained and qualified with Addleshaw Goddard in 2006. Whilst in private practice he had the opportunity to work on secondment at The Football Association before moving to Manchester United as only the second lawyer in the team. A worthy nominee he has acted as lead counsel in the negotiation of over 20 global and regional sponsorship deals, with an aggregate value well in excess of £100m. He has also recently negotiated the first ‘triple-play” sponsorship deal – a first in the industry.

3.The youngest in terms of PQE is Jonathan Bamber. Jonathan trained in-house with UMBRO, briefly becoming the sole UK lawyer before making the move to Liverpool FC. Jonathan joined the recently appointed Head of Legal as the second lawyer in the team and acts as the primary interface into the Club’s Commercial Team. Jonathan has negotiated the new shirt sponsorship agreement and has been heavily involved with the kit sponsorship renewal contract. He also played a crucial role in making sure the transfer of Luiz Suarez happened within a challenging timeframe – which culminated in Suarez scoring his first goal for the club 48 hours after joining.

Listening to these ‘young’ lawyers and hearing what they have achieved already in their career was inspirational and goes along way in highlighting the legal talent in-house in the NW.

The winner will be announced on the 21st October at the annual C&I North West dinner. Good luck to all the nominees.

Why a long interview process is a turn off for lawyers

A recent survey highlighted that 70% of legal professionals are put off a job if there is a long interview process.

The survey found that a similar percentage also expected the complete process – from application to job offer – to take four weeks or less. However, only 25 per cent of employers said the process would take this long in reality, with most being closer to 12 weeks.

Legal professionals who apply for jobs like the interview process to move quickly and many would turn down a role if it took too long!

Surprisingly Possibly not! I have been highlighting to clients for years the importance of keeping the interview and recruitment process moving.

And here is one reason why this is the case: It is human nature to protect oneself from disappointment. So, if you enter into the interview process and you do not hear back it is common to start thinking of all the reasons why the job wasn’t right for you anyway and therefore when the bad news ‘comes’ you aren’t too disappointed.

However when you do get the call 3 weeks later that you are being called back for a 2nd or 3rd interview the momentum has gone, interest has waned and you have come up with lots of reasons why this is not the right job for you anyway!

Clients be warned!

Candidates have a choice so make sure your recruitment process is a good one!

It is only when a recruitment process doesn’t go to plan that a client sees the error of their ways!

Why do I say this? Unless you have interviewed for a new job in recent years it is easy to forget what it is like to be a candidate going through a recruitment process. Thankfully most clients that we work with appreciate what it is like to be the interviewee. However, sometimes that is either not the case or the recruitment process is out of their hands. When this happens it is easy for any of the points below to play a part in making a candidate turn down a job and go elsewhere. You have been warned!!

1. It’s a two way street. Client and candidate are both ‘selling’ to each other, no one party should feel they are more important than the other.

2. The client should be clear on the role they are recruiting for and be able to sell it appropriately. Mixed messages on the role and a lack of ‘energy’ in communicating the role will turn the candidate off.

3. Use the recruiter; ask for feedback on how the candidates feel. Don’t assume everyone is as keen as you would expect them to be! Communication throughout the process can resolve issues at an early stage – stopping them coming to light at the very end of a process.

4. The interview process should be clear, concise and timely. No one likes an over engineered process, too many interviews and delays/ long periods between interviews, feedback and potential offers. Time delays always make candidates think the worst and get cold feet.

5. Clients need to make the right first offer. I never suggest a client puts in a low ball offer to see if they get away with it being accepted. In the market that I work, in-house legal recruitment, it is a candidate short pool. If you lose your preferred candidate their often isn’t a strong second choice!

6. Get paperwork/ contracts out ASAP. Until candidates receive something in writing they don’t believe it is a ‘done deal’ – leaving yourself open to other recruiters convincing your star choice to look at another option…

7. Once at offer stage communicate directly and fairly often with your new recruit as they work their notice. Making someone feel part of the team though a 3 month notice period is essential!

Having successfully placed hundreds of in-house lawyers we are never truly surprised when a candidate rejects an offer or gives back word when one of the points above occurs in the recruitment process. Hopefully recruiting clients will take some of this on board before it plays out in their own recruitment campaign.