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Private Practice vs In-house – Winds of Change?

Posted by: Laurence Simons 26/01/16

As an in-house legal recruiter across mainland Europe, I speak with top legal talent. Over recent years I have noticed that the number of enquiries from private practice lawyers wanting to explore the possibility of moving in-house has been steadily increasing. Whilst the historic attraction of moving into Corporate may have been the desire to achieve a better work-life balance, this seems to no longer be the principal drive and other factors seem to weigh heavy.

From those already working in-house, I see some of their trigger events being a more varied diet of work, having significant interaction with non-lawyers, being part of the corporate strategy, aligning with key business decision makers, focusing on a particular core business or industry, and having the potential to move into the business at a later stage. In-house lawyers are however a costs overhead and not a revenue generator and once the transition is made to in-house it is much more difficult to get back into a law firm where at a certain level of seniority a portable book of business is mandatory.

For private practice lawyers wanting to transition to in-house legal jobs for the first time, the frustrations are evident. In my view, clients’ objections centre around certain “myths” - a lack of commercial clout, inability to operate as a business enabler and no or little experience leading and managing legal staff (as opposed to projects) within a complex matrix structure. Further to this add a lack of relevant industry experience, an uncomfortable client led risk-reward analysis and high compensation levels.

Admittedly it may on paper appear to be more challenging to meet the compensation expectations of a private practice lawyer but with this shift in mindset from law firm to Corporate there now appears to be more of an appreciation to explore the bigger picture approach when moving in-house. Whilst many private practice lawyers hear the words “downwards adjustment” not all understand how this may affect their bottom line/take home pay and therefore should consider not only base salary, target bonus and possible equity but a suite of other potential benefits.

After the economic downturn, the once sluggish economy is gathering more pace and private practice lawyers now want to genuinely assess their in- house options but with a surplus of legal talent on the market, some Corporates are still adopting the default position. That said, there may be light at the end of the tunnel as by way of example we are now working with leading European multinationals based in France and Switzerland looking  to appoint senior legal hires with significant experience gained at top tier law firms - industry experience welcome but not mandatory! This is a great step in the right direction and a fantastic message to share across the legal industry.

In our business, we feel that if you have a strong work ethic, a hefty amount of determination, persuasion and influence, can bring emotional intelligence, are business savvy and principally have the all important “personality fit” then bide your time and wait for the right opportunity – it will be out there.