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How Does Working In-House Differ from Private Practice?

How Does Working In-House Differ from Private Practice?

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Working as an in-house lawyer has traditionally been seen as a very different experience to that of working in private practice. A large number of these differences proceed from the fact that, in most cases, private practice lawyers generate revenue and income for the firm while in-house lawyers are often treated as a cost centre.

If you are considering a move in-house from private practice, it is worth reviewing all aspects of what this change might mean for you. There are certainly potential benefits in terms of lifestyle, variety of work, and escaping the clutches of the billable hour but you should be prepared for the different types of pressures that you will encounter.

Adding Value v Billing Value

Whereas private practice lawyers can usually quantify the value they add to the business via the amount of hours they have billed, in-house lawyers are often faced with the continual task of actively demonstrating the value that they add.

This follows from the way businesses usually view the nature of the in-house role. When hiring in-house lawyers, finance directors will often simply draw up a cost-benefit analysis on whether or not it would be ‘cheaper’ simply to hire in-house lawyers instead of paying a law firm to undertake the work.

Pressure on in-house lawyers therefore arises from broader outcomes rather than individual formalities. For example, working to further the company’s profit and loss targets by making efficiencies in the way legal issues are processed and managed replaces billing targets. Further, bringing in more legal work is obviously not the priority for in-house lawyers.

Breadth of Knowledge v Depth of Knowledge

In-house lawyers often find themselves in a job which requires a greater breadth of knowledge than they had when working in private practice.

To a large extent, private practice encourages a division of labour where solicitors develop specialisms within their firm’s or practice group’s area of law. In-house lawyers on the other hand are often required to get to grips with unfamiliar areas of law quickly due to the consultative nature of the role an in-house lawyer plays within a large organisation.

It is not uncommon for in-house lawyers to be expected to answer questions on areas of law as diverse as employment, insurance, litigation, finance, administrative law, as well as procurement, IT, and property law. The broader nature of the work can be challenging but positive. Moves to in-house roles are often motivated by a desire to diversify workloads or to understand the other areas of law better.

Differences in Working Hours for In-House Lawyers

Commercial lawyers sometimes work upwards of fourteen hours per day and often have little control over their own time when the heat is on. The nature of the in-house role as a manager and processor of legal issues within the organisation does sit more easily with individuals who like to exercise greater control of their schedules. It is unlikely that every working day an in-house lawyer spends at the office will be 9-5 but generally more regular hours can be expected.

In-house Opportunities and Timing

Usually the lawyers we help move to new firms or in-house do so taking into account their proximity to the business, their career goals, and a host of other considerations. With a wide variety of businesses recruiting in-house lawyers from property to finance, plenty of opportunities exist. One source of opportunities lies in the close professional relationships lawyers have built with clients. As such, your private practice client could be your prospective in-house employer.

The ever-increasing intensity of competition for partnership combined with endless working hours make the in-house environment a great option for lawyers seeking broader career prospects and a more balanced lifestyle. Lawyers who have been qualified for a number of years but see partnership as too distant a prospect or have ambitions beyond a legal career can make great candidates.

For specialist advice about the changes you can expect when moving from private practice to an in-house role or to find out what opportunities are available contact us