Hey trainees

I’m back to give aspiring in-housers some advice.

Are you certain that the law firm life’s not for you? Have you done a client secondment and thought, 'Yep, this is less horrendous and totally worth the pay cut', only to contact recruiters and hear the same advice over and over again:

'Stay in private practice for at least two years'.

Welcome, my friends, to the 'two year rule'.

But, like all rules, it can be broken. I have a theory that a gang of cunning recruiters invented the two year rule to postpone the inevitable flow of solicitors in-house, thereby increasing their commission forever more. 

Of course, you might have some concerns about the move. Perhaps you’re worried that by moving so soon you'll get less support and training in the early days of your career. It’s a reasonable concern, but at the same time, the standard expected of you in-house is lower, so things balance out quite nicely. What’s more, if you haven’t got a thick skin and the confidence to get on with things without sign-off, it’s probably best to start developing those skills as soon as possible (and there’s no better place than in-house).

Plus, there’s always Practical Law. If the company you're considering doesn’t have a subscription, run for the hills. You’re not a martyr. 

You might be thinking, Two years, that’s not long right?'

Well, it's your life buddy. But you ain't getting those years back.

If I’ve convinced you to take the plunge then, rest-assured, you can move in-house at the end of your training contract and you can get a good job, particularly if you’re open-minded as regards the industry. 

If you are moving in-house to be a general commercial lawyer (correct answer!) then the industry you chose will prove less key to your happiness than the ethos and size of the company. Let’s be honest, a contract is a contract, a warranty is a warranty, an email is an email - you get the jist. Pick somewhere with a good reputation and it will serve you well. 

The key to moving in-house straight away is to sign up with one or two reputable recruitment agencies early on in your last seat and get used to studiously ignoring everyone’s advice, including the recruiter’s. They’ll tell you it’s super unlikely that anything will come up for an NQ. Ignore them and then pester them, it’s a classic combo.

What recruiters seemingly forget is that, relatively-speaking, in-house legal teams are poverty stricken. They are the poor nieces and nephews to their rich aunty law firms (it’s the best I’ve got). They can get you for cheaper than a two year PQE and that might well be their main concern. 

You’ve suffered for two years, no need to go through it all again.

P.s. This is terrible advice if you want to be an in-house employment lawyer. There are usually only one or two employment lawyers in-house and so companies want people with experience. Sorry. 

* https://www.theguardian.com/law/2013/mar/13/becoming-inhouse-lawyer



Anonymous 23 August 17 12:08

This advice is fine if you know you never want to return to private practice and you are comfortable with a 'clocking in and clocking out' job. The learning and development in private practice in the early years is always so much better than it would be in-house.

Anonymous 23 August 17 15:24

I know this is meant to be tongue in cheek, but just in case anyone takes it seriously:

- 'the standard expected of you in-house is lower' - this isn't true. If it is, you're somewhere you can't progress. With which you may be happy.
- I wouldn't hire an NQ in-house. NQs can't really operate or take legal risk views independently. More importantly for the individual concerned, even the best NQs need more active supervision and training than in-house environments can (in almost all cases) offer. The exceptions are large teams which are effectively law-firms-within-a-company.

Anonymous 24 August 17 17:20

I qualified as a lawyer and within 2 months of qualifying I moved in-house to be sole legal counsel for a multi-national. It was the best decision I could've made. I am now loving my work-life balance, and yes, the salary just isn't the same, but my happiness is something I value more.

Anonymous 25 August 17 10:40

I read this:

I have a theory that a gang of cunning recruiters invented the two year rule to postpone the inevitable flow of solicitors in-house, thereby increasing their commission forever more.

and thought:

what a load of rubbish . In what world do you think that recruiters "make" the market.

recruiters don't influence demand for jobs or supply of candidates. They are a conduit.

I didnt read the rest

Anonymous 25 August 17 13:22

I went straight into an in-house role as an NQ. I never wanted to work in private practice and never will. I had brilliant support and training from the Head of Legal at the company I went to work for. Ten years later I am Head of Legal for a really freaking cool organisation and I love my job.

Anonymous 26 August 17 08:07

I trained in private practice, went inhouse as an NQ, then returned to private practice at 2 years PQE (I'm now 8 years PQE).

Some of the best technical lawyers I've ever seen were inhouse, and some of the worst technical lawyers I've ever seen are in private practice.

Anonymous 26 August 17 16:17

What are moy option making this move in reverse, i.e. completing a training contract in varied seats in a FTSE 100 in-house legal department, including an external secondment to private practice, then moving at the NQ stage to private practice? Or would you need to get years’ experience in the same place you qualify before private practice would consider you (if, indeed, they would at all)?

My main motivation is changed personal circumstances meaning that I am now interested in working overseas (Dubai, Hong Kong, Singapore, etc.) in the medium-long term, which I wasn’t before I started my training contract, and that means private practice. Friends at the 7-8 PQE stage who are working in various APAC locations, and Cayman, have suggested that while a move is achievable it would have to be from in-house to private practice in the UK, and only then, with a few years’ experience, would you be potentially employable in private practice overseas. In other words, you can’t move from in-house to overseas private practice directly, you need to move to UK private practice first.

Grateful for people’s advice. Thanks in advance.

Anonymous 28 August 17 19:16

In-house is a great move for people tired of private practice nonsense. I am not as convinced it's a great starting point as you lack the exposure of a private practice training contract.

Anonymous 29 August 17 17:26

I'm a GC in house, and due to the shortage of decent CVs of private practice lawyers, we have started training our own. I think that this will increase when people realise that legal apprenticeships are a real alternative to people spending time at Uni and law school as full time students.

Anonymous 01 September 17 11:39

I've had 5 years in private practice (i.e. leaving at 3PQE) and a further 8 inhouse. What I would say is this:

Inhouse is a different set of skills to private practice. There's a significant arrogance amongst private practice lawyers that their training is better. Rather, it is different.

Inhouse is to private practice what private practice is to academia.

Inhouse lawyers are typically business advisers. Legal (black letter law) knowledge is part of it, more of it is is "a lawyer's way of looking at things" (i.e. skill rather than knowledge), but then you're also bringing industry knowledge and understanding the way your business connects.

There are very, very few private practice lawyers who will understand how the different departments within their clients interact and, in a meaningful sense, how to build effective systems.

So, really, what you need as an inhouse lawyer is enough legal knowledge to know when you don't know, and then you can buy in some technical assistance from a law firm. But don't get fancy, a law firm in that sense is really not much different to us than an IT guy - you're giving technical support for something we are doing - and frankly, we have a lot of choice about who we use, so reining in the arrogance will get you more clients.

Likewise, don't think about inhouse as short hours or clocking in and clocking out. There's probably more done in the average inhouse day, because we aren't sitting around waiting for partner comments, or for clients to get back to us, etc.