BCL Legal’s Mark Levine discusses the in-house market
Mark, how are things for the in-house team at BCL Legal?
There are still plenty of vacancies for lawyers looking to make an in-house move. It is buoyant across all the markets that we serve.
What kinds of lawyers are you working with?
We work with lawyers at all levels – however, the majority of roles are around the two to four years mark. At this level, the lawyers that we are working with are in the main currently in private practice and looking for their first move in-house. The interest from senior lawyers who are looking to move in-house is also strong which is great but these individuals need to think carefully about this move.
What do you mean by that?
Well, like any job only once you’re actually in the environment do you really understand what it entails and what it demands. If a private practice lawyer is interviewing for an in-house role, our in-house clients ideally like to see secondment experience on their CV.
Why is that?
Put simply, any experience in-house helps them truly ‘get’ the differences of being a private practice lawyer versus those of being in-house. That practical, hands on experience and knowledge means a lot.
What credentials does someone need to move in-house?
It takes a certain kind of person/lawyer to excel in-house and a proportion of the lawyers who we speak to are just not ready or right for that environment. As experienced in-house recruitment consultants we do all that we can to coach those who need it and I’m pleased to say that many go on to secure their dream role but others, of course, don’t.
How do you know if someone is right for an in-house role?
That is an interesting question! I recently published a LinkedIn post titled “10 ways to tell that you aren’t actually ready for a move from private practice to in-house.” The response to it has been great. Interestingly, one of the first questions that I was asked was: “What is the purpose of this post”. My response explained how different the two kinds of work are and that if people don’t take time to realise them - and work out how they feel - then it can be a disaster for everyone concerned.
Do you have a sixth sense about who might be right/ not right?
We can often tell from the very first contact that we have with a new applicant whether he or she is likely to be right for in-house work. As a general rule the following are the red flags that I highlighted in my LinkedIn post:
1. You are too focussed on the title of a role.
2. Your salary expectations are unrealistic.
3. You require personal secretarial support.
4. You want your own office.
5. You are put off by the non grade-A office or location.
6. You haven't taken into consideration the ‘in-house skills’ that you may need to acquire.
7. You are focussed on the ‘top job’ as opposed to a role that will help you gain the additional skills required to help you get there in time.
8. You still think in-house is the easier option to being in private practice.
9. Your reason for moving in-house is to get away from private practice.
We have seen candidates being rejected at interview for not being realistic and they sometimes only recognise their mistake when it’s too late. You should never get too caught up in any of the elements listed above – the desire to ‘develop’ as an in-house lawyer should be your number one priority – with that under your belt everything else should fall into place in time.
Do you think current in-house lawyers would agree with you?
Absolutely. I actually asked my LinkedIn contacts to suggest a 10th potential red flag. The answers came thick and fast and included:
• You are not prepared to take "on the spot" decisions using your judgement to balance risk and reward.
• You think you'll be able to find the answer from a third party legal resource, but then find out the company doesn't have a subscription.
• You are not comfortable with an ever evolving environment.
• You believe your clients want lengthy and detailed written advice rather than something brief and practical.
• You don't like the idea of having your clients there the whole time.
• You're not interested in taking time to understand the business.
• You think of yourself as a lawyer rather than a business person with legal skills.
• You're not ready to have your advice tested and challenged.
• If someone asks you to do something outside of your comfort zone your response is: I don't do that particular area of law.
• You will cite the law in response to a query but are not willing to give your own view/opinion.
• You think private practice lawyers are better lawyers than in-house lawyers.
Finally, any words of wisdom for private practice lawyers considering the switch?
Every year the competition for in-house roles becomes fiercer so hopefully this interview will give some handy hints as to what private practice lawyers should focus on/ consider when looking to make the move in-house.