With the Association of Corporate Counsel reporting that just 12 per cent of law graduates go straight into in-house roles, we asked how those grads – and other junior lawyers making the move across from other roles – can put their best foot forward.
The in-house sector is growing in size, now encompassing as much as 30 per cent of the broader legal sector, ACC managing director and vice president Tanya Khan said, and large corporate entities are increasingly targeting law graduates to move straight into in-house roles.
“Woolworths and Westpac are two examples of corporates that have established programs for recent law grads, while other in-house teams also hire summer interns,” she explained.
Across the board, there are extensive options for young lawyers looking to move in-house, and as with all career choices, motivations and drivers will differ for each individual, she said.
“If money is the key driver, then bigger tends to be better for salaries, whether it be based on organisational revenue, number of company employees or number of legal department employees,” she said.
“The biggest earners are those in companies with revenue of $50 billion or more, with 100,000 or more employees or more than 200 employees in the legal department.”
And despite research saying that private practice experience often results in greater earning capacity, it isn’t necessarily as black and white for graduates as for older lawyers, she argued.
“Many people start very successful careers in-house, while others prefer the perceived structure that is associated with a law firm grad program. Training and appropriate supervision is imperative, whether you choose private practice or in-house,” she said.
“You want to ensure you will have the opportunity to properly learn your craft, and appropriate guidance and supervision is therefore critical. That’s why we see the [rise of] in-house graduate programs as a positive trend that we expect to see increasing.”
The skillset required by in-house lawyers is also very different to that required by a private practice lawyer, Ms Khan noted.
“You generally assume more responsibility earlier, have more autonomy and are across more concurrent matters,” she said.
“To be an effective in-house counsel, you must be flexible and have the ability to balance legal advice with the commercial drivers of the business.”
Business and commercial acumen will be highly valued as you will be expected to contribute to the strategic direction of an organisation, she added.
“Prior experience is always valued, either through internships or practical business experience, as is the ability to develop strong relationships with the business.”
Ms Khan’s comments follow the publication of an ACC report detailing that female in-house lawyers earn less than their male counterparts.