The three most common reasons in-house counsel return to private practice

February 1, 2018

There is a common perception in practice that once a lawyer goes in-house, they never return to private practice.  Better work-life balance, a more invested relationship with the client, and the ability to delegate emergency matters to external counsel (especially on a Friday afternoon at 4:00 pm); why would anyone give this up to return to the grind of private practice?  And yet, every year I work with numerous in-house counsel who actively consider a return to private practice, which raises the question as to why. Here are the three most common reasons lawyers have when making the decision to return to private practice:

First, most in-house counsel will tell you the dream of in-house perfection is perhaps a tad separated from reality: while they may be exempt from the pressures of the billable hour, there are still significant pressures in-house lawyers face from their business units, executive, and external parties on a daily basis.

Second, and perhaps, the most common struggle I hear with in-house counsel is the limited ability to achieve craft mastery. The demands of an in-house practice often require more practical, time-sensitive solutions to company issues, and truly complex and challenging legal questions are referred to external counsel.

Third, the loss of collegiality with other lawyers, for those counsel who join smaller in-house legal departments, is a common lament.  Law is a highly complex profession and the ability to work collaboratively with a group of intelligent practitioners who can help each other solve complex client issues is perhaps one of the most undervalued aspects of private practice.

For our in-house counsel readers: do these issues strike a chord with you? Are you contemplating a move back into private practice? Consider speaking to a specialist legal recruitment consultant about your legal career options. The Counsel Network offers legal recruiting services exclusively to lawyers across Canada.

Warren Smith, Managing Partner