From the Team
One lawyer's recruitment experience in making a move from private practice to in-house
I recently helped a lawyer make the move from private practice to in-house. Our initial conversation centred on the reasons for the move and why now was the right time; the lawyer wanted to work more closely to a business. She felt working with the internal stakeholders in a large organisation would allow her to seek out a variety of projects on a long-term basis; she wanted to apply her legal skill-set on creating commercial solutions. In a nutshell: all the right reasons to make the move.
The perfect role and a good offer
Following our initial discussion, we worked together on a really interesting role working with an established legal team within a global business. The first interview went really well for both parties: both felt this was the right fit. Following a second interview, an offer was made (at the level requested) and everyone was happy. A good day at the office!
The (anticipated) spanner in the works
Throughout the process (and from the outset), I made sure the lawyer was prepared for the likelihood of a counter-offer (from her current firm). At this stage she was sure they’d be unable to offer her the things she wanted; after all, the whole idea was a move into industry. We discussed the possibility on a number of occasions because I knew this particular lawyer would be very difficult to replace.
So, unsurprisingly, when the lawyer handed in her notice a counter-offer was made. The salary was matched and some of the firm’s partners dedicated a lot of time and energy in an attempt to dissuade the lawyer from leaving the firm. 'Progression and structured development' were the main factors here – something the larger firms do very well. So surely the lawyer didn’t want to walk away from the promise of such development opportunity in their current role?
We discussed this at length and it was, understandably, a really difficult decision. I explained that all I wanted was for her to make the right decision for herself. If now wasn’t, in fact, the right time, we could pick up further down the line. But we also discussed some of the circumstances surrounding the firm’s counter-offer approach; points made by the lawyer as much as by me.
Where were the salary increase, progression opportunity, and structured development prior to handing in the notice? I’m not saying the counter-offer wasn’t genuine, but why should it take the prospect of having to re-recruit a skill-set that’s hard to come by, for a firm to swing into action?
Reverting back to our initial conversation, the needs of the lawyer were absent in their role with the firm, but conversely, it’s very difficult for an in-house legal team to set out a role in its entirety as it’s so dependant on the business needs at any given time. Further, it’s difficult to chart progression in the same way a large firm can (with lots of job titles and promotions on offer). So at that moment in time, the lawyer felt she was walking away from opportunity rather than towards it.
Horses for courses
Working as an in-house lawyer is a completely different job, with different skills to learn. Perform well and you’ll have direct access to senior executives in some of the largest, fastest-growing businesses across the UK. You’re using what you do every day to help an organisation achieve its objectives; using contract law in a purely commercial setting. There are many advantages to working for a good law firm, but in this scenario, the propositions are completely different. This point of view should shape the decision-making process after a counter-offer is made under these circumstances.
If you’re a good lawyer then you’re hard to replace, especially in today’s busy but lawyer-short market. It’s always worth considering whether a counter-offer is made with your career and benefit in mind.
The lawyer in question decided to move in-house. Mainly because they felt they were walking towards a great opportunity, as opposed to walking away from what practice could offer them – they were ready. It always makes sense to consider the stage you’re at in your career and what’s motivating you. Will your job role look different next year? Can you achieve what you want to in a practice environment, or are you ready to take the plunge and move in-house?