As an increasing number of companies continue to invest in their in-house legal departments to become partnering strategic planning functions, the option to work in-house is becoming ever more attractive to lawyers. That being said, there are a number of advantages and disadvantages compared to working in a private practice firm, so it’s important you weigh up the opportunity properly.
If moving in-house is something you are currently considering, we set out some of the pros and cons of such a move, which might just help your decision.
When moving in-house, typically it means you will be working for one client only; namely the business that employs you. This way of working can be preferred by lawyers compared with dealing with multiple clients at the same time, which is common practice when at a private practice firm. Although, if you are employed by a multinational group or a larger company, there is still the possibility you may have numerous ‘clients’ – different stakeholders within the business. However, here you have the advantage that you are also colleagues which gives you the option to negotiate deadlines based on business priority and required outcomes.
Making partner has become increasingly difficult with increased competition in law firms and limited opportunities, particularly at the equity partnership level. The nature of work undertaken in-house can sometimes provide lawyers with the opportunity to take on a more commercial role and offer accelerated career progression. When it comes to legal work, everything tends to be very closely related to the particular area of business in which your employer is engaged, so a thorough understanding of the industry you work in is often just as important as knowledge of the law.
Generally, being in-house you will not have to keep track of billable hours. The demands of recording your time can be frustrating and monotonous. Working in-house doesn’t mean you’ll be working any less hard, just that there isn’t the same pressure to monitor your billable hours; inevitably allowing you more flexibility. You can enjoy consistency in hours and may also enjoy longer, less interrupted holidays.
Whilst lawyers may receive a lower base salary when working in-house compared to that in private practice, the extra benefits offered may actually boost the compensation package to make it more competitive overall. Benefits can range from a car, private medical insurance, pension entitlement and bonus schemes to even extra days annual leave.
As an in-house lawyer you will work closely with your clients and have the opportunity to see the outcome of your advice, compared to private practice where you may not always observe how your advice was implemented and therefore the result achieved. With any luck, you’ll feel part of the decision-making process driving your company. Many in-house lawyers speak of the real sense of achievement that comes with contributing to the development and growth of the company and will often receive much higher levels of recognition for their work.
Working for only one client means you won’t have exposure to the same variety of work as compared with working in a private practice law firm. So, if you prefer a diverse range of work and clients, then an in-house position may not suit you. The quality of work you are exposed to in private practice is of an exceptionally high standard – working for successful Partners can offer unrivalled training and exposure compared to when working in-house.
Whilst junior to mid-level lawyers might receive a large initial salary increase when moving in-house, this is likely to plateau in comparison to private practice where salaries would increase steadily year on year. In general, senior in-house lawyers are likely to receive a lower base salary than working in an equivalent private practice role. Large ASX companies are able to offer generous remuneration packages to their General Counsels and Senior Legal Counsels, but these roles represent a minority in the market.
When working in-house, there tends to be less opportunity for you to increase your technical knowledge through training. This may be a concern for junior associates who still need to develop their skillsets, particularly if they plan to transition back into a private practice. Competing against lawyers with access to higher levels of training could hinder potential job opportunities in the future.
Whilst most in-house roles do offer increased flexibility in comparison to law firms, they can still be a demanding work environment. As in-house lawyers are usually required to report to multiple departments and stakeholders, their roles can be extremely demanding, often leading to increased workloads without increased compensation. Within multinational companies this can also mean international hours working with different stakeholders across the world.
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