Career Advice Career Guidance and Counselling

When is the best time for lawyers to make that move in-house?

Over the years, I have spoken to many lawyers of varying seniority who have all been keen to find out the right time and optimal conditions to move in-house.

Factors influencing most in-house moves include a desire for a more balanced lifestyle, difficulty of obtaining partnership at law firms, opportunities for earlier promotion and a chance to broaden and sometimes improve workloads.

Timing an in-house move depends largely on your career objectives. If your desire to go in-house is driven by an interest in switching to the business side of a company, you are probably better off making your move as a relatively junior associate. If your objective is to become a general counsel somewhere, then staying at a law firm until you are at least a senior associate is often sensible.

As a rule of thumb, it is probably best to gain a couple of years’ experience, preferably three to five, in private practice before moving in-house. For lawyers with eight years’ experience or more, there are relatively fewer roles in-house as most head of legal and general counsel roles require some previous experience beyond an extended secondment in a law firm and these roles tend to be highly sought after.

Once you step into a role as an in-house lawyer, you officially start wearing two hats – that of a legal practitioner and that of a business partner.

To succeed, you not only have to be an excellent lawyer with strong technical skills, but you must also be prepared to make a contribution to the business in a commercial sense. In-house lawyers, unlike other in-house units, are viewed as a cost centre, so it is fundamental that you become good at controlling costs.

It is also interesting to note that the elevated demand for in-house lawyers will continue regardless of financial market conditions. Increasing regulations demand that companies review their legal risk. This will probably lead management to focus on hiring and retaining quality in-house personnel – leaving you with the question: are you ready to take up the challenge?

This article appeared in the Classified Post print edition as Moving inside.