Do you dream of a life where you work regular hours and you’re able to organise your free time? A life where you don’t have to cancel social plans at the last minute and you can maintain your non-work-related relationships? If so, you are not alone.
According to recent Law Society statistics, working as an in-house solicitor is becoming increasingly popular. One in four solicitors now works in-house, with the corporate sector employing the largest proportion of all in-house lawyers. A particular recent hotspot has been the legally embattled financial services sector which has recruited heavily as wave after wave of new regulations arrived in wake of the financial crisis.
The public sector, including the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), Government Legal Service (GLS), local government and armed forces, also employs a substantial number of in-house lawyers, as well as media and production companies, telecoms, IT and the increasingly regulated real estate sector.
Why do lawyers want to make the switch in-house?
One of the main reasons qualified lawyers make the switch and move in-house is the difference in lifestyle.
It is not unusual for City lawyers to work late into the night, upwards of fourteen hours a day and often at weekends, meaning that a normal social life embellished with healthy doses of non-work activities is off the cards for much of the time.
With the regularity of workflow offered by the in-house legal work environment, leisure time is easier to arrange and holidays booked with friends and family are easier to stick to compared to the hothouses of City private practices. The prospect of holidays not being cancelled at the last minute is a typical example of the incentives at work for those flirting with a move in-house.
Many lawyers explain the hands on nature of in house work as crucial in their desire to move. There is the desirability of seeing a project through from start to finish rather than just advising on one aspect of it, as well as working side-by-side with the business to achieve commercial aims. For more junior lawyers, the exposure to more varied work, greater responsibilities and the business’ perception of you as a lawyer, not a PQE, holds appeal.
Other general reasons why lawyers move in-house include wider issues such as being one step closer to the decision making process, the physicality of a business’s location which may be nearer to home. Many large corporate businesses have offices spread widely across London and the Home Counties whereas City firms tend to be restricted to the Square Mile unless they are part of a national or international network.
Needless to say, dissatisfaction with one’s current firm or even the culture and structure of private practice as a whole is often another factor in the decision to move in-house.
Unsure of the correct time to move in-house? Read our blog post on the subject.
A different career ladder for the in-house lawyer’s climb
There is another important reason, beyond the obvious lifestyle factors, why private practice lawyers see moving in-house as a good option, namely career prospects.
A common factor is the difference in career structure and the general impression that there are more opportunities for promotion in-house. The scope for eventually taking on more commercially engaging roles also has appeal to those hoping to set their sights beyond the strait jacket of a conventional legal career.
The recent economic malaise and the increasing competitiveness of the legal labour market have also exacerbated the perceived dearth of promotion opportunities within law firms, as highlighted in our Salary Survey . Over the last decade, making partner has been increasingly difficult, with many commercial firms significantly reducing the proportion of equity partners to increase profitability.
With newer generations of lawyers taking a more open minded approach to their careers, the growing allure of in-house roles is understandable.
Who do in-house lawyer jobs go to?
The vast majority of in-house positions are advertised for lawyers with 2-6 years post-qualified experience.
In one sense, organisations are hiring fully-trained lawyers who have had sufficient experience to be able to understand the business and its aims. In the same vein, organisations are not recruiting lawyers who will bring a deeply embedded outside culture with them.
The fact that many lawyers recruited in-house have actually worked on secondment or placement in the organisations to which they move reveals the extent to which networking and informal recruitment opportunities are capitalised on in order to find lawyers with the right ‘fit’.
What about the money?
In general, although the remuneration working in-house tends to be less than that of working in an equivalent private practice role, the vast majority of in-house lawyers do not move back to private practice. The statistics support the proposition that many solicitors see a shift away from private practice as a positive move but also an inevitable and final one.