Escape from Planet Private

Have you ever thought of working in-house, maybe at a prestige outfit such as Coca-Cola, Rolls-Royce or the BBC? According to The Lawyer’s biggest-ever survey of the relationship between private practice and in-house, no fewer than 68.5 per cent of the 1,317 participants said yes, they have.

When we asked more junior lawyers for their thoughts the response was astounding, with a mighty 80 per cent of associates saying they would consider an in-house role.

So what has provoked this change? Market conditions, for one thing.

“There’s less certainty in private practice, with firms going bust or merging, so many lawyers – even partners – don’t know what the future will hold and are looking for new challenges,” admits Laila Martin, manager at legal recruitment consultancy Shilton Sharpe Quarry.

But another reason for more junior lawyers moving in-house is that the roles have become more exciting.

“General counsel are becoming more influential and this has made young lawyers more attracted to in-house roles,” muses Nabarro senior partner Simon Johnston. “They’ve seen that in-house roles are not just about providing legal advice, but also understanding the business context. At the senior level, general counsel now have a stronger role and handle more strategic aspects of the business.”

The old argument for secondments still stands, notes Wragge & Co managing partner Ian Metcalfe.

“As I tell my associates, in-house roles are arguably harder than private practice, as general counsel are close to the sharp end,” he said. “We like our associates to do secondments as it’s important for them to understand the pressures on in-house counsel to provide results immediately and have knowledge of a wide range of areas. This is difficult in private practice as you tend to specialise early. In-house lawyers don’t have this luxury.”

Secondments provide a taste of life as an in-house lawyer. As Frances Murphy, head of corporate at Slaughter and May, notes, they are a must for any commercial lawyer.

“They provide an understanding of what drives clients and experience of the pressures of working in-house,” Murphy says.

Working in-house is no easy ride, stresses legal recruitment specialist Taylor Root partner Sarah Ingwersen. She notes that “private practice is starting to understand that it’s not an easier option – you’re more vulnerable. You’re at the whim of the business, you can’t hide behind the office and the proximity is more demanding.”