In-house but out of the loop?
This article was first published in Solicitors Journal on 25 November 2014 and is reproduced by kind permission (www.solicitorsjournal.com)
Roughly speaking, the benefits to working in-house appear to be threefold: first, a greater range of work, second, a better work-life balance, and third, you don’t have to worry about time recording.
Working in-house can vary hugely depending on the organisation you work with. You might be the only solicitor or, conversely, a member of a legal team numbering anywhere between four and 100 people. Further, with around 500 companies offering in-house training contracts, it is not just post-qualification roles that are available. Needless to say, the difficulties associated with securing a training contract in a private practice firm are only magnified when trying to secure one of these highly coveted in-house positions.
My primary concern is about training, rather than working, in-house. The absence of certain practices has the potential to limit your professional development and will almost certainly restrict your ability to transfer to private practice following qualification. Just because in-house training contracts are sought after does not mean they are of high calibre. There is the potential for the development of particular skills, especially client care and time management, to be compromised by choosing to complete your training in-house. The fact that some organisations who offer in-house training contracts are seeking to circumvent this by sending their trainees to external lawyers in order to ensure a breadth of experience is arguably a clear acknowledgment of the problem.
My firm uses secondments to ensure clients are provided with the level of dedicated client care they require. We believe it is crucial to know both your client and their business inside out, and nothing serves this purpose more effectively than providing high calibre in-house support for our most valued clients.
The beneficial by-product of looking after clients in this way is that members of staff who are on secondment have the advantage of enhancing their experience and commercial acumen. More impressively, these opportunities are also available to our trainees, which means they can gain invaluable experience of working in-house in addition to benefiting from the full spectrum of private practice training, without being restricted by either one.
I like knowing I am surrounded by credible experts – all just a stone’s throw away from my desk – whose legal knowledge I can utilise when my own is lacking, and generally absorb on a day-to-day basis. With roughly half of in-house roles in departments with three or fewer members of legal staff and about one quarter involving working alone, I am almost positive that such a role would not be for me.
Working in-house appears to be almost entirely an issue of personal preference, although I would still urge those considering a move from private practice to carefully research the realities of any purported benefits. Conversely, I would be reluctant to encourage anyone to train in-house unless they were either 100 per cent certain of their dedication to their ‘niche’ or the organisation in question offered exposure to private practice as part of their training.
The more beneficial option would be to secure a training contract with a firm that gives you the opportunity to experience in-house work while maintaining the support and calibre of training that private practice has to offer.