Alternative Careers for Lawyers

In-House Lawyer

A wide world, of course, encompassing positions as diverse as General Counsel roles in multi-national companies, to teams of in-house lawyers, claims handlers, compliance and risk managers, company secretarial, transactional lawyers, negotiators, individual, start-up and hybrid jobs. According to the Law Society, there are 11,000 in-house solicitors working in commercial and industrial organisations in England and Wales, and a further 4,000 in local government. That is around 20% of the profession not in private practice.

Undoubtedly a release from the shackles of billing targets and time sheets, the joy of which can never be overestimated, going in-house should not be looked at as necessarily an easier life. Some far more immediate commercial pressures can be a shock. Your principal is, in whatever guise, ever-present. You may be looked to and scrutinised for many cost-savings, for example, negotiation of external counsel or offshoring legal work. Roles and expectations can be much larger these days, incorporating company secretarial work, compliance demands, risk management, reputational risk on a global scale, often resulting in senior in-house counsel having a more central role in companies' strategic planning.

It definitely involves an adjustment in thinking. Commercial demands often do not indulge legally nuanced contemplation, analysis and conclusion. You may have to combine legal skills with business acumen and leadership credentials. As a basic rule of politics, learning to understand the players and their motivations within an entity is also crucial, before imposing legal resolutions that are going to make you a hindrance or deeply unpopular. There will be established courses of dealing in any organisation, and traders, brokers, operators, manufacturers, service providers etc. want solutions and not obstacles from in-house lawyers. You may have to structure and maintain your own processes and organisation, in a way that a firm will have structures in place for you. You will almost certainly have to be an adept juggler, where matters can dissipate as quickly as they arise, and learn to prioritise tasks swiftly in an initially unfamiliar environment. All this requires application, diplomacy, intelligence and excellent communication skills. You have to be able to see the world more broadly than is perhaps necessary for private practice and learn to have a pre-emptive eye.

Another fallacy is that your legal qualification is a ticket to commercial or industry advancement, certainly when going in-house at a more junior level. With the increasingly high standards demanded of a service industry, and in these days of such specialisms, lawyers can be straight-jacketed in their role and indeed stigmatised by their qualification, often seen as the 'technician' in that respect. A frequently aired complaint about going in-house is that it can lead to a flat career trajectory. That said, many larger companies have in-house teams structured in a similar fashion to a law firm, with groups and group heads, and provide further training for more diverse roles elsewhere in a company.

In any event, opportunities are on the increase as companies, insurers, operators, retailers, principals etc. see it as cost effective recruitment, keeping down expenses and annual insurance premium increments, if they are able to reduce, for example, out-sourcing or claims. An in-house lawyer should not be expected to be a legal oracle, where he or she will not be surrounded by the resources of a law firm or chambers, and some expectation management may be involved with newer roles. A joy that is up there with the lack of time sheets, is the ability to order around your peers in private practice, and the liberation from any marketing onus. (Some of these aspects could return to haunt you however if you find yourself in an in-house department turning ABS, and offering services to other businesses.)

Secondments to a client is a well-trodden route to securing a permanent in-house position. Otherwise, there is industry-specific press and the many recruitment consultants who dedicate personnel to in-house placings, as evident in the recruitment pages of the legal periodicals. Timing is also important - look too early in your PQE and you may be seen as light on technical skills, too late and you may be perceived as having been passed over.

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