Be wary of any generalisation but the answer to this question tends to be yes.
Of course, the ‘right’ time is going to depend on various factors: a great deal will be in respect to both the performance and direction of the market; your personal circumstances will inevitably dictate your position; and, as with all opportunities, serendipitous timing can play a key part.
A Quote to Note
Constant development is the law of life, and a man who always tries to maintain his dogmas in order to appear consistent drives himself into a false position.
So when is the right time?
With that now said, there is a general rule that the majority of in-house opportunities are to be found when you hit the sweet spot that is the 2 – 5 PQE mark. Why is this?
From the clients’ perspective, until you have served your time developing your core legal skills in a private practice environment, they will have their doubts as to whether you will be able to come in and hit the ground running or whether you’ll be needing someone looking over your shoulder or providing you with further support and training.
And, to be fair to yourself, in a large variety of cases, it is probably not in your best interest to move any earlier because you risk denying yourself the solid foundation private practice training provides. After all, for the most part, the conception still remains that a candidate who has trained in a private practice environment will always be the preferred option to one who has had the same style of training in-house.
We have noticed, though, that our clients in both the financial services sector as well as in commerce and industry are increasingly foraying into the NQ market; what’s important is to consider the reputation of the company and its team, as well as what training and support will be available to you.
Can you leave it too late?
Unfortunately, this does happen quite often with many left kicking themselves for their procrastination. The longer you delay, the tougher it generally becomes. You’ll end up competing with people who made the move earlier and have grown with the business, competing with other lateral hires who made the move earlier and now have 2 – 3 three years’ worth of in-house experience in a relevant sector. Or you’ve out-priced yourself and there’s scepticism as to why you would want to take such a drastic cut to your pay at a relatively late stage in your career.
In-house experience gives you a huge competitive advantage over your peers and competition; even a six month secondment period in your training contract makes you far more attractive than the candidate who has none. The client needs to believe that one of the reasons you’re interested is that you understand the environment you’re trying to get into and that you’re making an informed decision— you have decided private practice is no longer where your future lies.
One of the questions the in-house client is almost certain to ask is: ‘Why now?' At the back of their mind, they might well be right in thinking that the only reason you’re approaching them is your hope of partnership failed to materialise; or, worn down by the unpredictable hours and grindstone that is private practice, you see in-house as the easy route out as opposed to wanting to be a part of a business, their business, and helping to drive it forwards.
Of course, there are exceptions to the ‘leaving it too late’ scenario. Many senior solicitors with niche expertise or specific knowledge and experience may find themselves snapped up with ease, but these cases are the exception not the rule.
What should I do?
If you’re fortunate enough to be in a position where your firm can offer you an in-house secondment: take it. It’s hard to appreciate now just how many doors it could open for you later on in your career if you have a change of heart. As you will see, although it’s not an exact science, there are a range of considerations to take into account that will help you to make informed decisions as opportunities arise. The key is to keep your ear to the ground, weigh up each opportunity as it comes, and assess whether the timing is right for you.
Extra Reading: www.theguardian.com/law/2013/mar/13/becoming-inhouse-lawyer