After a succession of 12-hour days in the office, competing with timesheets and drafting yet another 100-page contract, the temptation to turn your back on the holy grail of partnership and head inhouse may seem too great to resist.
For many who take this route, it’s a great success, as the cultural change provides the stimulus, challenge and rewards that were missing from the traditional law firm career ladder. For some, however, the realities of an in-house job can be quite confronting.
Before waving goodbye to your private office and high-rise views, consider some of these realities:
Hours: True, the vast majority of lawyers in private practice will work longer hours than their in-house counterparts, but it’s not nine-to-five with a lunch hour and gym time. Typically, you will work at least 10 hours each day with little downtime. Your “clients” will more than likely arrive unannounced at your desk (open plan, of course) and expect legal analysis delivered on the spot. Literally, there’s “no place to hide” and it can be a highly pressurised and intense environment – day in, day out. Those all-nighters and weekends in the office aren’t common, however, and you will generally enjoy more control over your working week.
Repetition: Unless your inhouse role is specifically aligned with a business unit or organisation that is churning through corporate takeovers or capital raisings, the chances are that on a daily basis, particularly at the beginning of your in-house life, you will have some repetitive ‘grunt’ work. Undoubtedly you will have more variety of legal issues to contend with, but there’s no escaping the more mundane and
repetitive work. Note: this is often without your own dedicated administrative support!
Career progression: Unlike the highly structured career path through to partnership, there is often little or no long-term visibility of career progression within an in-house legal team. There is only ever one general counsel and he or she may not be planning to leave any time soon. Sometimes career progression can only be assured by moving externally, which in itself carries risk and upheaval.
Compensation: The overwhelming majority of lawyers don’t turn their back on private practice for financial reward. Don’t expect to earn the seven-figure partner salaries quoted each year by the top law firms in town if you head inhouse. Remember, you are a cost to the business, rather than a revenue generator, and only a few in-house counsel achieve the remuneration levels of their partner peer group.
These are just a few considerations to mull over before you decide to leave your law firm. Don’t be deterred, however, as the vast majority of in-house lawyers thoroughly enjoy the change in direction. For
them, the reality of life in-house couldn’t be better.