In-house Legal Roles
There are two very different reasons why lawyers make the decision to move to an in-house legal team. The first is a wish to eliminate the parts of their job which are not satisfying – the daily grind of administration, billable hours and the rat race effect of acting on a constant flow of deals. They are also often unhappy with the hierarchical nature of private practice firms and the unpredictably long hours that are involved. The second motivation is a desire to further a career in law by taking on a more commercial role, one that will test an individual’s business acumen as well as their legal ability. Solicitors moving away from private practice seek a varied caseload with little repetition and enjoy working alongside a variety of professionals from other disciplines, as well as playing a central role in a company’s decision making process.
There are certain qualities which absolutely every organisation will look for when adding in-house lawyers to their staff:
- excellent knowledge and ability within the required discipline
- awareness of commercial activity outside the legal field
- ability to make commercial as well as legal decisions
- ability to manage people within and outside the organisation and an ability to communicate effectively with staff at all levels
- a right personality which fits into the organisation and its ethos.
Most organisations will want to recruit experienced lawyers for their in house legal teams, so for a junior role you could expect to make a move in house at around 2 – 5 years past complete your qualifications. A legal team looking for a more senior member will generally prefer someone who already has some experience of working in house. Many in-house roles require knowledge of more controversial disciplines such as general commercial contracts, IP/IT/e – commerce, construction and PFI. Lawyers with experience in corporate finance are popular, as are those with an interest in or experience of drafting legal terms and contracts.
People are often put off going in house by the likelihood of having to advise on areas of the law that have not been touched on since university, using common sense and commercial know-how to get through. As an in-house lawyer you will be regularly answering questions from professionals in other areas of the business, and the ability to answer these promptly and confidently is vital. You will also be likely to be called upon to deal with more trivial issues which crop up at a company as well as the more important ones.
Another major factor which may put solicitors off working house is the salary, which may be significantly lower than if you worked in private practice, although salaries can vary wildly according location and business sector.
A career as an in-house lawyer can be a very different experience to that of working in a private law firm, and choosing whether or not to go into this area is a decision that has to be made personally according to your own preferences and circumstances.