Statistics released by the Law Society show that the number of solicitors working in-house is growing at a faster rate than those in private practice. Our Associate Partner and Head of Legal Practice James Limburn looks at the 7 reasons why.
1. Feeling part of the bigger, commercial picture and working with a wider range of people
Many lawyers who move in-house really enjoy having the opportunity to work with different departments. Not only are they exposed to new people, personalities and skill-sets but they get to see the impact of the advice they give in practice. Furthermore, they work closely with Senior Management. Because of the collaborative environment, they develop business skills and are often brought into decision making as their commercial input becomes valued as well as their legal advice. This makes them feel part of the wider business strategy and commerciality. In private practice this level of exposure is rare and their part in the overall business is more ambiguous. Finally, lawyers in private practice can often get given work midway through a deal, just for part of a deal or only when there is an issue. In-house however, lawyers get the fulfilment of seeing something through from start to finish. It is also easier for them to pinpoint areas or projects where they have made a real difference and see how that has contributed to positive performance.
2. Escape the pressure of billable hours and business development
A private practice lawyer’s survival, salary and career progression rely heavily on their amount of billable hours and consequently the need for business development. Not only does this fuel the exhaustion that comes from working long hours but it takes lawyers away from what they are trained to do and forces them into a sales role, which doesn’t always sit comfortably and of course means even more time working. This simply doesn’t exist in-house – you are the client. The internal client is always there and the company pay your salary for your technical and commercial acumen, not for sales or being on the clock 24/7. Those who are motivated by their financial contribution can still get a sense of reward through their impact on the P&L by contributing to product structuring and development and further still through their legal efficiency resulting in cost savings.
3. Career progression
Private practice lawyers are seeing ever increasing competition for partnership while in-house lawyers are enjoying broader career opportunities. In a law firm, the career path is relatively one dimensional, starting as an associate and then the lengthy slog to Partnership. This can be a long road, with an end that is not guaranteed. In-house there are a variety of long-term career opportunities with moves between practice disciplines and even to the business side. Promotions happen more frequently and are easier to attain.
4. Better work-life balance
You don’t have to look too far in a private practice to see someone who has slept under their desk, had to cancel a holiday, worked the weekend or missed their child’s bedtime again this week. While they are putting in at least 1800 chargeable hours a year (plus time spent on business development and training), in-house lawyers agree that by only having one client to serve, while they may need to work additional hours during busy periods, they have shorter working days and more control over their schedules. By truly getting to know both our clients’ and candidates’ needs, we match talent not just to the requirements of the role, but to the style of the organisation and the culture our candidates want to be part of.
5. Greater variety of work
Private practice lawyers can find themselves working in isolation and focusing on one area of law. While some may like specialising, in-house lawyers develop a greater breadth of knowledge and enjoy the variety this brings. Expertise can still come with really being able to get under the skin of the client and the deeper insight this allows. Working for a large, global company brings with it exciting, high-profile and sophisticated work that isn’t necessarily accessible to private practice.
6. Job stability
The number of organisations moving legal in-house is growing as the greater control and economic benefits become clearer. This only adds to the difficultly private law firms have finding new clients. Add to this, some of the high profile private practice failures and the increasingly stable economic conditions for companies, law firms can no-longer be seen as the secure option.
7. Bridged salary gap
It is a common misconception that in-house lawyers earn markedly less than their counterparts over in private practice. This is dependent on the company and the position and where the salary is less, stock options and bonuses can often more than bridge the gap. For many, where time has always been money, they begin to view this in a different light as they value more time with their loved ones.
It is important for legal professionals to consider how they hope their career will progress and what elements of their working and non-working lives they value the most. If for you, this tips the scale to in-house in the financial services I’d be very happy to help you make this move.