Nowadays, the general rule of thumb is that anywhere between two to five years’ experience in private practice is ideal. Like all rules, this one is made to be broken, and there has always been the odd example at both ends of the spectrum of the newly qualified lawyer or partner moving into that coveted in-house position.
However, we are now seeing an increased demand for junior in-house roles, even as sole counsel. Why is this occurring? Consensus states one of the major reasons companies have an in-house team is to minimise costs. If budgetary constraints are a key focus for a company, it is only logical that less experienced, and hence less expensive lawyers, will eventually be considered. Other factors may include the desire to induct junior lawyers into the corporate culture, or wanting a candidate not so entrenched in private practice.
So, if this is a sustainable trend, what are the ramifications for the senior associates looking to move? If 10 years’ experience is considered too much; what about nine, eight or even seven years? Job trends are fluid and there is no absolute answer. In gaining that elusive perfect résumé, obtaining relevant private practice experience is delicately balanced with the ability to transition to a more commercially focused role. And sometimes this transitional ability is simply a perception of potential employers. Contentious as it may be, there is a point where some potential employers may believe a long-term employee is too firmly entrenched to move. As a precautionary measure, lawyers considering an in-house move may want to consider their options earlier in their career.
Despite all this, there is no need for senior associates to prematurely abandon ship. A smart employer will look for technical skills, experience, management potential and a cultural fit when recruiting an in-house team. There will always be opportunities for a broad spectrum of experience.