In-house v PP

Long time lurker here.

I appreciate this is ground that has been covered before but I wanted to see what the board's views are on going in-house (for a relatively decent gig, say one rung below head of legal) versus slogging it out for another 5 years or so to try to make partner in private practice (assuming a good wind, market doesn't tank, sponsors don't leave)? How have your experiences of in-house been (any regrets about leaving PP) ? Anything you wish you had known before you left? Has any one made the transition back from in-house to PP if they didn't like what they found?

Thanks. 

I know from the experience of friends that it can be difficult to come back from in house to pp if senior (but not impossible).

The challenge (amongst other things) arises as to why they should hire you (an unknown quantity) to service their existing clients (since presumably you will be bringing little or no work with you) rather than promote one of their current people.  There is also the question of annoying those people if someone is brought in over their heads.

Go for the In-house gig. I doubt you’ll want to go back to PP if you’re thinking of leaving now. 

I found in-house much more rewarding but there are drawbacks, pros and cons below. I'd hate to return to PP

Pro

  • You actually care about the business
  • You can get involved at the early/interesting stages of matters before they become the all-consuming nightmare
  • The hours are much better
  • Equity
  • Dealing with non-lawyers and generally, normal people
  • You have more control over the direction of your career

Con

  • If you're not careful you end up in a career cul-de-sac, unless your head of legal is going to leave your going to be under him/her for a looong time. You have to be focused on your C.V. and your career at all times.
  • The pay is stagnant
  • The company is not set up with fee-earning lawyers at the apex, you're are a cost center and you will continue to need to justify your existence. To some extent, your existence depends on the performance of a management teamover which you have little control
  • You are a small cog in a big wheel, less talented people in shinier suits are more important and better paid than you.

 

What Rubbo said.

I have no regrets but I hated almost every minute of PP.

Private practice is basically slave labour unless and until you take equity. And then you're surrounded by ****s.

Go indahouse. 

In house has been much better in almost all respects

I should have also included as a con that you forget how to write and spell...

Bottom line, unless you're going to be a partner emeritus type who gets rolled out to shake hands with clients and attend closing dinners whilst earning 7 figures, in house is better than PP.

I have never regretted going in house. And it’s been years now. 

Don’t underestimate the “being a cost centre” bit

less talented people in shinier suits are more important and better paid than you.

This isn't just re in-house, tbf.

Also don't under estimate how nice it is not to be surrounded by lawyers all day.

In my first job we had three Harvard MBAs on the board. So I wouldn't really call them less talented than your average lawyer.

All the company did was make bricks, roof tiles and concrete. Large scale though, FTSE and all that.

The legal director was also on the board and a finance director who was a former partner at Deloitte.

You might meet some interesting people, go for it.

I'd never go back to PP after IH.  I'd rather do something else entirely.  Coming IH makes you realise how badly PP lawyers are treated and why the system only "works" for those wanting to make equity (and doing it).

Also would never go back to PP. Sure, I'd probably get paid double but I much prefer having a life an minimal stress.

And they all made a fortune when the company was taken over some years later because they had stacked up on shares.

The game plan all along.

Chambers - was that the business taken over by some Germans at the top of the market?

Chambo you have a remarkable ability to state the bleeding obvious as pearls of hard won insight, revealed grudgingly by a past master. 

Keep it up. 

Stating he bleedin' obvious is somewhat rare on here ZG. I try to do it if I'm around.

The company was called Redland and it was taken over by Lafarge, a French company.

Decades ago.

Mafamatics innit

 

In house is more likely to rock * and PP is more likely to suck**

* Unless your a junior specialist that's never going to be anything other than a cost saving cubicle filler to them

** Unless your equity for long enough not to care when they bin you

 

As others have said , #NeverGoingBackToPP

 

*raises fist*

oh and wot other said about speeling, grammer and such like

Thanks all, seems overwhelmingly in favour of in-house! That may be indicative of career choices as well I take it.

As someone with a view from a rung below, being a partner does not look like much fun although I suppose it is the opportunity to earn vast amounts of money (at what cost though).

 

 

Has any one made the transition back from in-house to PP if they didn't like what they found?

I've never regretted leaving PP and I've never regretted returning to PP.  Have done that transfer a number of times so it's possible.   You pick up lots of good skills and experiences IH that clients like, and you've probably been on the receiving end of enough BD to have a fair idea of what works and what doesn't.  I'd happily recruit an IH lawyer over a PP lawyer for my team now.

IH experiences are going to vary wildly depending on your practice area, industry and size of team.  Also be aware that there are now lots of teams led by ex-partners (or seniors turned down for partnership), and lots of IH teams that are bigger than PP teams, so don't assume you're going to leave all of the ballache of PP behind.  Lawyers tend to mis-manage how they have been mis-managed in the past, so lots of law firm bad habits are creeping into IH life, particularly with the proliferation of law firms trying to sell 'how to run your legal operations' type advice into IH teams.

Don't get sucked into the hype that IH is always better than PP.  I worked harder in my last IH gig than I ever have in PP (although it was enjoyable so it's all relative), the politics can be cut throat given progression opportunities are often very limited, my worst bosses have been IH, and I've seen great teams utterly destroyed by a change in GC and leadership style.  I think the impacts of a bad manager/GC are probably more keenly felt IH as there's less opportunity to get work from other sources.  

All that said, I'd wholeheartedly endorse an IH move.  Try to pick a sector/industry you actually care about, and stay fleet of foot and move around as required (to get out of a shit team or for progression).  What Rubbo said about being focused on your CV at all times.

I've worked in both. At the moment, I'm missing the standards and rigour of PP because I work with a bunch of sloppy, lazy fuckwits. 

Orwell presumably that varies from employer to employer though rather than indicative of in-house generally? Plenty of sloppy people in law firms as well. How long have you been in-house for? What sort of area are you in? My practice is in a pretty relentless transactional area. 

It varies from team to team even within an employer, but the sloppiness and laziness is worse IH overall from my experience.  I've done several years in both - one law firm and several different banks in both advisory and transactional.

I noticed a few people talk about limited career progression, is it fairly easy to move between in-house roles once you have in-house experience or do you end up being tied to a particular industry which limits scope for progression through changing jobs some what.

Do not regret the leap from PP to in-house. Working crazier hours in-house, though. 

 

If you join a big tech company you probably won't find moving between in-house roles that difficult. The GC of Microsoft, Google or Apple could also walk straight back into an equity role at any law firm in the world, if they wanted to.

that’s  understandable but you have to get that role first. Wondering how much natural progression there is in-house. In house jobs tend to be located all around the country so moving for work becomes more challenging if one has kids or commitment to developing a property. 

that’s  understandable but you have to get that role first. Wondering how much natural progression there is in-house. In house jobs tend to be located all around the country so moving for work becomes more challenging if one has kids or commitment to developing a property. 

Pick your industry/sector carefully. It has to be one you're interested in. And big.

If you join a bog brush manufacturer in Barnsley your future options may be somewhat limited.

There have been people on here who have joined the likes of Google, Disney or big construction companies and they'll have plenty of options.

Mostly in London.

Be careful not to view all "in-house" roles as being essentially the same. A key consideration (depending on your PP specialism) is whether you want to continue with your specialism in-house, or whether you wish to become a generalist. If the former, you are likely to end up working for the type of organisation which you currently have as clients, doing similar work albeit from the client side. If this work is transactional, you may find your working hours are not that dissimilar to those you endure in PP. If you go generalist, you probably have access to a wider variety of sectors/industries/sizes of business, and generally speaking your working hours are less likely to dictated by transactions and therefore more manageable.

In terms of career progression, think laterally and be brave! Progression within the legal function of a large organisation is obviously one way of advancing your in-house career, but equally don't dismiss progression by branching out, and taking on additional responsibilities alongside the legal role. I am GC and CO Sec for a medium sized privately owned manufacturing business (not quite a bog brush manufacturer but not far off!) and have taken on additional responsibilities for Comms and PR, land and estates, and CSR amongst others, as well as a seat on the board. This wider exposure to the business has made be a better (and happier) lawyer than I ever was in PP.

From what I've seen of in-house practice in the banking and financial services world (having been on long secondments twice in my career), if you go to one of the bigger organisations:

1.  It's fucking moronically easy work

2.  Therefore you are bored

3.  You are an anonymous minion who they can (and will) lay you off in a heartbeat

4.  If you go higher up, it gets politically more interesting, but you don't do any of the actual work, so if you don't like admin and politics, steer well clear

5.  All the really interesting work gets punted out to PP panel firms anyway

 

So if you do go in house in that world, go for smaller organisations where you have more autonomy if you want job satisfaction.

Badman I can imagine an in-house role in a bank or financial services entity would be dull as dishwater, I hope that most other in-house jobs don't follow that mold. 

In house roles can be vastly, vastly different.  I'd think of it in terms of what kind of an in house role you want, rather than in house v pp.  I left pp to go in house because an excellent opportunity came up.  I wouldn't have left for many other in house roles.

They can be (and are) vastly different.  In house in a commercial enterprise is totally different from FS based stuff.  What I'm trying to convey is that in-house practice in any large institution will entail the following bullshit:

 

1.  Propaganda.

2.  Top-down fed management speak, TLAs, and VVS horseshit.

3.  Career progression linked to swallowing and regurgitation of 1 and 2.

4.  Some form of "calling out" based cultural nonsense meant to reduce risk (from product development right down to using elf and safety breaches whilst using the photocopier).

5.  Not being allowed to call out the above 4 as complete bullshit and telling the up-highs to "cunt off you patronising fucking cock-jugglers".

6.  You only have one client, so you have to be excessively tactful and diplomatic in order to avoid getting fired - it's a bit like an abusive relationship without having to tell others that you walked into a door (see point 5 again).

7.  You will inevitably be viewed as the fun police by anyone trying to do anything innovative, and will have to play catch-up with them as they will cut you out of the loop and spring things on you (often entirely new concepts which have taken months of development) "for approval" (i.e. rubber-stamping) at the last minute.  This is especially true of salespeople and marketing bods, who arguably need the tightest control to stop customers being hosed.

8.  If you're really high up (i.e. GC or DGC), you're expected to go down with the ship, even though you're not the captain. 

 

Other than that, it's a breeze.

Yikes. PP isn't much fun either, my elbows aren't sharp enough. 

This is something which I compiled for junior lawyers considering career moves at NQ-2PQE, so it's not completely on point for the original poster's question, but it may be useful. It's based on a variety people's contributions over the last few years, but it is only a first draft. Please feel free to shoot it full of holes, so I can improve it.

 

Career considerations: in-house v private practice (at NQ-2 PQE)

In-house

‘Work-life balance’. 40-hr weeks, i.e. 9-5, possible (depending on the area, obviously).

Responsibility. Teams are minimally-manned, with limited resources, so associates get relatively high responsibility early.

Flexible working. While ‘flexible working and ‘working from home’ can be convenient, they also mean that even if senior lawyers are notionally supervising matters, they are more difficult to contact, and you feel like you're being more of an imposition on them, so support can be lacking.

Quality/range of work. Everyone, everywhere (except perhaps personal injury and volume litigators) claims to have a high ‘quality of work’. This therefore is an unhelpful assertion. Dependent on area (transactional, contentious, etc.), typically in-house lawyers do mid-range, routine work, with low-end tasks sent to legal process outsourcers, and high-end work send to external firms.

Standard of work. ‘Resource efficiency’ requires assessing what is ‘good enough’, and doing no more than that. In-house lawyers have limited support, and must do most things DIY. This necessitates a ‘good enough’ approach. This has implications for your quality of work, and thus your own credibility and future employability.

Responsiveness. At all but senior levels, and in all but emergencies, in-house lawyers largely work predictable hours, e.g. Mon-Fri, 9-6.

Career development. Legal teams are cost centre, to be run at the minimum cost. There is, therefore, virtually no investment in lawyers, for training or otherwise.

Initial salaries. Considerably lower than private practice, albeit sector dependant (financial services apparently has the smallest differential with private practice).

Pay increases. Potentially non-existent: you are seen as a unfortunate but unavoidable support cost, so the business wants to pay you as little as possible (and does).

Promotion. Potentially non-existent: you are reliant on a more senior lawyers above you in a highly immobile organisation eventually moving on (AKA "dead man's shoes")

Access to support and resources. Potentially extremely limited: no professional support lawyers/knowledge lawyers, limited subscriptions to legal databases and other online resources, and almost certainly nothing as luxurious as a legal library. You will frequently be reliant on your panel firms' lawyers for up-to-date information (which may make you feel like a second-class lawyer).

Client contact. You have extensive client contact: in-house legal teams are the first point of call. Client contact can, however, in reality be a mixed blessing. 

Skills gained. Working closely with the business. Closer client engagement earlier in one’s career. Industry-specific knowledge (e.g. finance, oil & gas, TMT). Far greater commercial exposure.

Training. Training opportunities are available from panel law firms. There is usually flexibility to attend that training (e.g. no billable hours or utilisation rates). The quality and value of that training can however be variable, and it is almost certainly less coordinated than that formal packages developed by private practice firms for their own people (because in private practice, ‘you are the widget’, i.e. you are the product being sold; whereas in-house you’re no more important than HR or even facilities services: you’re just a support cost to enable the actual business of the company).

Time management. Less pressure – both the nature of the matters dealt with internally, and the different relationship dynamics with internal clients, means that time pressure is unusual.

Credibility. In-house lawyers (male and female) can be regarded by many in private practice as having taken the ‘Mommy track’ opting out of their career in favour of child-rearing. However unfair this may be, it seems to be a widely-held perception. This is also closely-linked to the perception that in-house lawyers are those who couldn’t, or wouldn’t, ‘hack it’ in private practice. Again, this is unfair, but enough people in private practice seem to hold some variant of this view that it’s a risk worth being aware of, as it potentially limits your ability to move from in-house to private practice.

Employability. While 70% of lawyers are in private practice, this is a misleading figure: 90% of lawyers trained and initially qualified and worked in private practice. They only moved in-house once they had gained private practice experience working with a variety of clients on a range of matters. Potential private practice hiring partners are unlikely to view favourably those qualified in-house and have no private practice experience. Moving from private practice to in-house can - unfairly or otherwise - be seen as a one-way move, and/or as a step down.

 

Private practice (high end)

‘Work-life balance’. 80-hr weeks possible.

Responsibility. David Maister, writing Managing the Professional Service Firm in 1993, articulated the key roles in any professional services firm (Maister was a lawyer, but like any good lawyer he was also a businessman, and therefore broadened the target market of his book): (a) 'Finders' (partners); (b) 'Minders' (Managing Associates); and (c) 'Grinders' (Associates). You will spend your early years as a 'grinder'. While not glamorous, this will develop your 'technical capability'* in a way that being in-house will not. Bluntly, you will be a better lawyer.

Flexible working. While notionally championed by most 'woke' private practice law firms, the extent to which it is embraced in reality varies greatly. If your focus is on becoming a better lawyer, this is arguably a good thing: there is no replacement for routine face-to-face supervision from more senior lawyers.

Quality/range of work. Higher end law firms deal with higher quality work than any in-house lawyers. This of course depends on the calibre/market position of the firm: international firms, for example, will only do high-end work which justifies their hourly rates. (See the June 2019 analysis by Adam Smith Esq, a boutique management consultancy which focuses on law firm market segmentation: https://adamsmithesq.com/2019/06/introducing-the-maroons-the-grays-part-1)

Standard of work. Perfectionism is the goal, and partners scrutinise anything leaving the firm. All matters are led by partners, who will be available to check work. External law firms, provide "Rolls Royce" service, aiming for perfect advice .(Even if this is arguably unnecessary for most clients. Legal advice in this respect is like maths: what mostly matters is the answer, but there are a few marks for the working, too. But, because external lawyers need to be aware of professional indemnity insurance risks, additional detail might be understandable, but best presented in support, e.g. as background only).

Responsiveness. Depending on the level of the firm (with US firms reputedly being the most demanding), partners can expect associates to be available almost 24/7, and responding to emails within at most 30 minutes.

Career development. Lawyers are ‘the product’, with firms investing in them to increase their experience, ability and charge-out rates. This is an explicit aim of law firms, unlike in-house. (Maister, in Managing the Professional Service Firm articulated the three key objectives as: (a) Provide excellent service to clients; (b) Generate profits for partners; and (c) Deliver career development for associates.)

Initial salaries. Considerably higher than in-house.

Pay increases. Significant (perhaps 10%) year on year increases are the norm, as lawyers’ charge-out rates increase with seniority.

Promotion. Pyramid structure with 'up or out promotion': if you are competent, you will be promoted or will leave the firm. There is however  a constant throughput of lawyers, so promotions are common and are the norm - in stark to in-house.

Access to support and resources. Wide access to a wealth of resources: enabling you to be the best lawyer you can possibly be. Professional Support Lawyers/Knowledge lawyers provide depth of experience in different areas. Access to electronic and hard copy resources (e.g. current editions of the White Book) are funded. Computer hardware, e.g. laptops and mobile phones, are properly-funded and supported. Software, such as modern versions of Office, Adobe Acrobat for PDF creation, document management systems, etc. are available.  Fee-earners have PAs/secretaries providing administrative support, enabling lawyers to do legal work. Extensive non-secretarial administrative support is also available, for example from AV (audio-visual) teams to enable conferences, etc. without having to do it DIY.

Client contact. Interaction largely done by partners and senior associates. Junior associates’ time is focused on specific tasks – and becoming a better lawyer. Some people will prefer working almost exclusively with other lawyers, i.e. private practice lawyers will often work exclusively with in-house legal teams, who insulate them from the lay clients.

Skills gained. How to write well: Writing ability is probably the most important skill legal set, and close supervision and constructive criticism teaches to junior lawyers, for example, construct concise and clear sentences, and how to front-load memos and briefs with the most pertinent information. How to tolerate unpleasant work: Life requires enduring boring ‘grunt work’, whether as a painter, a musician, a farmer, or a politician. Some tasks must be done. Working efficiently and methodically through painfully boring obligations is good experience for life. Punctuality: Law is special, particularly contentious law. Court deadlines require compliance. This builds discipline. Efficient reading: Associates are required to do copious legal research, as well as review often complex documents. Associates learn how to efficiently process large amounts of information.

Training. Training is a core task for junior associates in many law firms, as the firm has a selfish interest in enabling their career, and thus being able to charge more for them.

Time management. Many associates will be staffed on multiple matters simultaneously. They must (a) be aware of all matters; (b) track deadlines; (3) keep partners updated; and (4) deliver to deadlines. People feel lost amidst insane flurries of activity: they either adapt or find a new career.

Credibility. Private practice, specifically City, law firms are regarded as the pinnacle of legal excellence.

Employability. Depending on the firm, training at, and qualifying into, a private practice a law firm confers a certain ‘pedigree’ which makes you employable for the rest of your career. Part of this is ‘credentialism’ – benefitting from being at, for example, a Magic Circle firm, because everyone knows that places for training contracts are intensively competitive and therefore those who secure them have a ‘stamp of approval’ having passed that selection. Mainly, however, there are legitimate substantive differences in the quality of training and work that in-house and private practice lawyers do – in the latter’s favour.

 

* Technical capability (an example definition): following briefs accurately, identifying and analysing issues correctly; using appropriate legal sources and research tools to produce accurate and comprehensive research; understanding complex legal concepts; giving technically accurate and commercial advice or  input in clear and structured way; selecting appropriate means of oral and written communication; drafting in a clear and precise manner; structuring written communication to suit the purpose of the document and the recipient; reviewing own work for format, style, grammar and content before passing to others; understanding legal and commercial arguments and client’s goals; demonstrating attention to detail at all times, and flawless delivery in details; understanding legal principles relevant to commercial law and contract law; understanding the dynamics of business and the global market in which the client operates; well aware of the firm's positioning in the market and its strategy; appreciating the importance of the client’s perspective when providing advice.

Upside of in house.  Morning telecon moved to 2pm.  About an hour’s work to do before then but no deliverables for today.  So took the kids to school, have been to the gym, now going for a swim then gonna meet a mate for lunch.

Factor that into your skillset matrix...

Interesting Mountain. A bit dated now, I have met Maister a couple of times and find him a bit too 'folksy'.

As well as finders, minders and grinders there are binders. They tend to be partners with a respectable practice, maybe not the top billing, but with a remarkable talent to get on with their peers and everyone else in the firm.

They tend to be be the future Senior Partners.