There is a perception among lawyers at City firms that it’s best to wait for at least two years post-qualification before moving in-house. And yet at the same time there are a significant number of trainees who know they’d like to get out on qualification but are persuaded to stay, biding their time for a few miserable years.
If you’re sure you want to move in-house, and you’re doing it for the right reasons, rest assured you can move on qualification and you shouldn’t be afraid of doing so. In fact, remaining where you are could prove detrimental. Most in-house roles, especially those at a junior level are “general commercial” roles. Two years in an unrelated department like real estate or tax won’t set you up well for these and may even be off-putting to employers down the line.
There is a school of thought that, because law firms have greater resources, the training and development for young lawyers is superior – but then, they would say that. The smaller size of most in-house teams means that NQs get unparalleled responsibility. You will get more client contact and chances to lead negotiations than your counterparts in the City. It’s not about perfection, it’s about getting stuck in.
What do I need to consider when moving in-house?
The first thing to do if you want to move in-house is to make sure you understand the job. In-house lawyers have a very different job to their City cousins. Private practice lawyers often become more specialised as they progress. In-house, the opposite tends to be true. Business clients have a tendency to call on in-house lawyers for everything and anything and the lawyer often has to learn something completely new in a short space of time.
As an in-house lawyer your clients are also your colleagues and this means that your relationship with them is often more personal. Your advice must always be targeted to the needs of your company and you may find yourself morphing into a lawyer/business adviser half-breed. And yes, the hours should be much more reasonable.
Five pieces of advice
- The best way to ensure you know what you’re letting yourself in for is to do an in-house secondment. It might feel like the wrong decision as you stare out the window of a business park in Epsom while your mate lives it up in Hong Kong – but it will help you out later on. Doing an in-house secondment means you can explain to future interviewers exactly why you want to move in-house and you can demonstrate that you know what the job entails.
- If you want to move on qualification start contacting recruiters at the start of your fourth seat. Persuade them you are serious about the move because they might advise you to stay where you are. Ignore them: they’re not career advisers.
- That said, it can take a long time to secure a role, so make sure you still apply for a job at your firm. This can feel uncomfortable if you’re a morally scrupulous person but you don’t want to be left with nothing. As good as you are, your firm will live with the disappointment if you accept a job that you later turn down.
- Be open to different industries. You might have your heart set on working for Dior but it probably won’t happen. Industries you’ve never considered might surprise you and offer new opportunities. Just be aware that working in-house at a bank might involve longer hours than at other companies.
- Finally, be resolved. The established wisdom can be off-putting, but if you know your mind you’ll be much happier once you’ve made the move. Lawyers who become attached to the way of life at City firms can find it harder to adapt to life in-house. By moving as an NQ you represent a blank sheet to the company and that can be very appealing.
Katie Burton was a trainee at Hogan Lovells who moved in-house on qualification to become a commercial solicitor at EDF Energy.