The path from private practice to in-house is well worn. With the in-house employment market remaining steady, opportunities are likely to continue to present themselves throughout the year, so it is good to be ready to assess them.
While there are exceptions, most people I have met who have had great longevity out of their in-house careers have spent a number of foundation years in private practice. This has enabled them to build a solid technical grounding before their commercial training starts - four or even five-plus years experience in private practice is preferable. That said, opportunities wait for no one, so if something amazing comes along make sure you grab it, but also make sure you will still have access to the training and mentoring you will need for your level of experience.
Weigh up the differences between the two work environments and you might find that the grass is not always greener on the other side. If, for example, you are tired of timesheets and budget pressure, I don’t think that an in-house role will cure this. If you think the accountabilities are tough in a firm, where you are a revenue maker, take a moment to imagine the expectations in an environment where you are more likely to be seen entirely as a cost, and a pretty expensive one at that. Further, in private practice, you are sought out specifically by clients for your valuable advice. Get into the wrong in-house role and you might be politely listened to at best, but often you will simply be expected to follow orders. In the end, that will only leave you feeling undervalued; a sure sign of impending career change.
On the more positive side, there are many benefits to being in-house that are difficult to gain in private practice. For instance, in-house roles allow you to see the end product of your advice and work. In addition, many solicitors enjoy the often wider focus of an in-house role, along with the possibility of getting involved in business projects, management decisions and the like.
There is no set formula when considering whether or not to move in-house. Do your due diligence carefully. Speak to a lot of people. Have a good think through what industry the company is in, because that is what you will be spending your days on. Consider a secondment, yet remain alive to the pitfalls of seconding out while in private practice. In interviews, ask a lot of questions around reporting lines and why there is a need for the role. Weigh these things carefully alongside an honest assessment of yourself in terms of your personality type and work style. Take that information and talk confidentially to a friend who works in-house, or talk with a mentor, or a trusted recruiter who has experience with both private practice versus in-house roles.
As always, it is a balance of positive against negatives and the leap of faith against the known, so the better informed you are, the more likely your final decision will be a sound one.
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