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My next move: I am seeking to move from in-house back to private practice – will firms want me?

My next move: I am seeking to move from in-house back to private practice – will firms want me?

Many candidates tell us that a move in-house is not necessarily the panacea it once was.

Many candidates tell us that a move in-house is not necessarily the panacea it once was.

Ten years ago moving in-house was an opportunity for lawyers to work fewer hours, usually for bigger dollars, and what they might have missed in black-letter law they would make up in being closer to ‘the business’. 

Over the last decade the role of in-house counsel has changed and there would be few legal teams that are not asked to become increasingly accountable for external legal spend. The increased accountability, greater regulatory environment and market conditions have meant that more work has been kept in-house and in-house lawyers will these days work similar hours to their private practice counterparts. The various business units that might rely on the legal team to move deals and contracts through at speed are equally under pressure to produce revenue, adding even more weight to the shoulders of in-house counsel.

With in-house roles no longer being the answer to moving away from six-minute units, a good number of in-house lawyers have returned to private practice. For a successful move back into private practice the trick seems to be several-fold. Firstly, don’t dilute the specialist skill-set you once had. If you were a property lawyer for six years and then spent the next four years being a generalist commercial in-house counsel, you may not be able to return to private practice as a 10-year property lawyer. By all means, some broadening of skill-set is not a bad thing, but getting too broad or completely away from the skills you developed in private practice won’t assist you moving back to private practice. 

Equally, time seems to be relevant. Three to four years out of private practice appears manageable for firms. Brand will also count. Experience in a blue-chip corporate will always be viewed more favourably than equally good experience in an organisation that is less known. 

Finally, to the extent possible, make sure your title has ‘legal’ or ‘counsel’ in it if you worked in a legal role within a corporate. Titles like ‘contracts manager’ or ‘analyst’ don’t resonate with firms and will make things more difficult for a move back to private practice.

There are, of course, exceptions, and the market often sees experienced general counsels joining a firm as partner. But what they usually bring to the table is their former employer becoming a client of the firm or an opportunity to strengthen an existing client relationship.

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