The Biggest Career Myth to Going In-House

January 7, 2021

For lawyers contemplating a career change from private practice to become an in-house counsel, exploring the options and various trade-offs is an important component within anyone’s decision making process.

As recruiters specializing in the legal sector we are acutely aware of the preconceived notions and predictable themes behind the lawyer’s perspective of going in-house.  Often lawyers in private practice desire to escape the long and unpredictable hours.  Or, it could be a keen interest to move away from the pressures of billing and business development.  Some state fears of being pigeon-holed into a narrow practice scope should they remain in private practice at their firm.

Additionally, many private practice lawyers yearn to play the role of strategic business advisor — being part of the decision-making process rather than being involved only in specific, defined legal matter.

While some of these objectives may be achieved by taking in-house counsel roles, the transition can also introduce new challenges for those in private practice which they might not have fully appreciated.

The Myth

Ask any in-house corporate counsel and they will tell you.  It is a myth that in-house practice always offers excellent work-life balance and more flexible working arrangements. Law is still a service industry, whether the client is external or just down the hall.

In-house lawyers are often under heavy pressure to hit tight deadlines to fit the needs of their non-lawyer colleagues.  These colleagues while well-meaning in their ask, may not appreciate the time required to understand and advise on a complex legal issue. There are few in-house lawyers out there whose hearts do not sink when they hear the words “can you just take a very quick look at this…”

That said, time management can generally be more achievable in-house. This is because the in-house lawyer is frequently able to see what is coming down the pipeline, sometimes weeks or months in advance, and plan accordingly.   In contrast, lawyers in private practice are often only instructed once a transaction becomes live, sometimes without the benefit of reasonable prior notice.

In addition, in-house counsel may have the ability to add legal help to meet tight deadlines through the use of external counsel. The resolution of a complex legal issue on a Friday afternoon for a Monday response can be made possible for those in-house through the assistance of those in private practice.

The Best Way to Find an In-House Job

Actively networking in the business community and working with a legal recruiter are the two best ways to make a career move into an in-house position. Many companies rely on legal recruiters to help them find great lawyers. The HR departments in many large organizations recognize that they may not have the same reach or the same ability to determine who the best lawyer candidates are.  Therefore, they rely on legal headhunter expertise and experience to help in their hiring process.

If you are thinking about moving in-house talk to an experienced legal recruiter to see when and if it’s the right move for you.  Depending on your seniority and how much time you spend in-house, it can be difficult (but not impossible) to return to private practice.  Myths aside,  lawyers interested in exploring an in-house career will want to make a careful and well informed decision that best fits with their professional goals and aspirations.

 

Sameera Sereda is the Managing Partner and Chair, In-House Counsel Division at The Counsel Network, a Canadian legal recruitment firm specializing in legal talent management strategies covering all levels of lawyers and practices for both corporate legal departments and law firms. To discuss your career options, contact Sameera at ssereda@thecounselnetwork.com or 403.444.1763. 

 

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