If you are amongst those lawyers who cannot bear the ‘treadmill’ nature of the work in private practice, long and unpredictable hours, peaks and troughs, and time sheets, do not give up! Despite the global financial crisis and the obvious reduction of roles released onto the market, the in-house world is still open to you. Here are some tips to help you make the big move!
A recent study by The Lawyer discovered that 68.5% of the 1,317 Private Practice participants surveyed said they would consider a move in-house - a third of these participants were partners!
Downturn means less roles, but in-house legal teams are still busy
Whether you are a commercial, IP/IT, corporate, derivatives, banking or finance lawyer, there is plenty of work to be done and although some institutions may not seem to be doing that well recently, lawyers are still busy supporting a busy business. New regulations, projects, policies, even legacy work need legal inputs in order to manage risk adequately. In addition, we have noticed that our clients are under an increasing amount of pressure to reduce legal spend on external lawyers and tend to rely on their in-house teams much more than in the past.
Sectors and roles on demand
With the banking crisis, banks are struggling to recruit and are managing with overworked lawyers. However, some sectors and institutions are ‘recession proof’ and/or consistently recruiting such as exchanges, insurance companies and asset managers on the Financial Services side.
On the Commerce and Industry side, publishing houses, IT and telecoms companies have been recruiting heavily too.
The current market offers some decent opportunities for lawyers who have experience in compliance, regulatory, hybrid funds and derivatives, funds administration as well as data protection work.
Be open minded and adaptable
If what you want is in-house then do not miss out on opportunities that may not look like your perfect role at first sight. “In-house” refers to an incredibly wide spectrum of jobs that you will not be aware of. Companies may have different ways of describing roles, what may not be “sold” as an exciting prospect may well turn out to be what you are after. The nature of the work in-house varies constantly and what looks like a narrow role may well expend to something more appealing in the future.
You may not originally be attracted to the Financial Services sector (pace of work, banking crisis, controversial sector under scrutiny), but ultimately end up in a role at a broker, insurance company or a niche wealth management company!
You may not want to work outside of the City but after a first interview, once you have met the team, discussed the work ethics and learned more about a role, you may well realise location is a small thing to compromise on.
You may be reluctant to leave a permanent role in this market for a temporary role. This is a fair and reasonable consideration, but, read the small print: if the role is labelled “temporary” due to the unforeseen future of the head count - i.e. the role is limited to a fixed term contract with an option to turn into a permanent position - then it is worth considering?
What is your USP for in-house?
Secondments – the market is saturated with candidates from private practice looking for in-house roles. Make sure you distinguish yourself by reaching out to partners or clients to be put forward for secondments. In this market, our clients are looking for ‘freebies’ and a secondee is often an excellent solution to a workload and head count issue. This way, you can ‘test the water’, prove yourself and create your own role.
PQE level - the prime time to move is between 2 and 6 years PQE. This is only an indication and a rough indication as to the bulk of the roles available in-house. If you are outside of this ideal bracket, do not panic! Just be mindful that if you have over 10 years of experience in private practice and only decide to make the move now, it is likely that, unless you transfer to a client of yours who knows how you work, you will have to justify why you have not already made the transition if this is something you really want.
Be commercial – our clients emphasize on ‘building relationship quickly with the business’. You may well be an excellent technical lawyer, you may still struggle to make the move in-house if you are too academic, detail focused, and fail to see the bigger picture of risk management.
Broaden your practice – in-house is all about picking new work and getting on with it. Make sure you can demonstrate that in your CV. For instance, if you are a corporate/ECM lawyer, being able to turn your hand to drafting and negotiating TofBAs, IT/IP Licences, employment contracts will take you a long way. This is not always possible if your firm has strict separation between departments, hence the need to try and be seconded.
Personality – this is a key attribute to show when looking for your move. Unlike in private practice, each company has its own entity, style, dress code, social events, work ethics and personality. In-house lawyers are more often than not easy going, adaptable, personable people who can ‘hit the ground running’ quickly and not be phased by an unexpected change of circumstances.
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Interview process: manage your expectation!
The in-house interview process can be painfully long and frustrating. Whilst a few years back, you could land yourself a job in a couple weeks, things have changed and the process is much more cumbersome. Depending on the time of year, size and nature of the institution, it may take months before you get an offer through.
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Clients are much more cautious (having fought hard for their head count) and want to make sure the new hire will be approved by the business and that it turns into a long term investment.
You may be an excellent lawyer, with straight A*, from a good firm, having advised on high profile deals, but you may not be the only one and traction is often difficult to get.
To conclude, consider carefully why you want to leave your current role as you will need to be patient, committed, flexible and you may even have to take risks to get your first move in-house in this market, but if others do it, why not you?!