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In-house or Private Practice? - The never-ending debate

Posted by: Laurence Simons 13/07/12

In-house or Private Practice - The never-ending debateGlobal Managing Director, Laurence Simons International Legal Recruitment. With over 20 years experience within the global in-house market at Laurence Simons, Naveen has gained unrivalled expertise and experience working with some of the world’s best known multinationals.

For as long as I can remember, there has always been a debate revolving around whether it is better to work within private practice or in-house. Laurence Simons recently conducted a survey asking 339 legal professionals across the globe whether they would consider a move from private practice to in-house and vice versa, or whether they were happy and would not consider moving. The results are quite interesting.

From the results of the survey, it seems that in-house continues to be increasingly popular with 35% of respondents suggesting that they would consider such a move from Private Practice and 36% saying they would want to remain in-house. Only 7% of respondents would move from in-house to Private Practice.

I can’t say that I am hugely surprised by these results as the classic reasons for wanting to move in-house still exist: the greater variety of work; the interaction with non-lawyers; being closer to the decision makers; the lack of time sheets (not always the case nowadays however); the continuity of work and being able to see the fruits of your advice and opinion; being aligned with a product or industry that is of real interest to you.

Perhaps another reason for the continued interest in in-house moves is the greater profile and responsibility the office of the General Counsel has assumed over the past 10 years or so. What was once viewed as the safer and less demanding career option for lawyers is now no longer the case. The reality is that those within in-house are under as much pressure and have a working day as long as those within Private Practice – often, however, for less money.

With an increased emphasis on cost control and the streamlining of legal departments, those within in-house need to consider the fact that they remain an overhead whereas those within law firms are revenue generators and can easily depict their worth by the book of business they hold. Making a move in-house is not a temporary decision as moving back to private practice is often an extremely difficult move to make without a client base to offer the firm in question.

With 35% of lawyers looking to move from private practice to in-house, you have to wonder whether all the negative press surrounding the high profile failures of firms like Dewey & LeBoeuf have detracted from the legacy of working for a law firm. Despite the potential for a high level of earnings, perhaps the younger generation of lawyer are also searching for a better work-life balance. Those within Private Practice will tell you that it offers the opportunity to become a specialist in one area, rather than being required to hold a 360 degree knowledge of the law as is often required in-house.

Personally I think it is important for legal professionals to map out the way in which they hope their legal career will turn out, whilst remaining realistic about what is achievable in the current recruitment climate. There is no right or wrong answer in terms of which is a ‘better’ career path for a lawyer embarking on their career as both in-house and private practice offer different elements and pros and cons. What will have an impact on your decision is how both legal departments and law firms respond to a more challenging economic environment and adapt their business models to, respectively, demonstrate tangible value-add to the CEO or remain competitive and innovative in an ever evolving law firm landscape.

Either way, this debate has the legs to go on for a very long time…