Moving in-house as a junior lawyer leads to a ‘wealth of benefits’
Lawyers no longer need private practice to move in-house, general counsel and in-house lawyers have recently revealed.
Despite there being a number of longstanding pros to moving in-house, many lawyers work in private practice firms first. However, numerous GCs have said that the myth that private practice experience is needed before working as a GC or in-house lawyer is just that: a myth.
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And in addition, younger in-house lawyers are able to be more innovative and experience greater variety in their work.
Evergen GC Theo Kapodistrias began his legal career in-house and told Lawyers Weekly that the younger in-house lawyers gain similar experience as they would in private practice.
“Just like a lawyer who commences their career in private practice would receive training and support from their peers and manager, the same can be said for those who start as an in-house lawyer. I’ve only worked as an in-house lawyer, kicking off my career in an in-house legal team of nine lawyers in 2014. I received appropriate supervision from the GC and senior lawyers who would review my work and provide support to assist me in my learning,” he said.
“The myth that you need to commence a legal career as a private practice lawyer has been busted long ago. You can gain the same technical expertise, get exposed to a huge variety of legal issues, as well as gaining a range of practical commercial acumen in an in-house environment that you wouldn’t otherwise get in a private practice role.
“There are also amazing networks for in-house lawyers such as the Association of Corporate Counsel Australia, which provides the opportunity for learning, networking and connection with other corporate counsel to assist with the learning and development aspect outside of traditional on-the-job training.”
Sydney Fish Market general counsel and head of property Michael Guilday echoed a similar sentiment — and while he did have private practice experience before moving in-house, he said that it’s no longer a prerequisite.
“It used to be the case that having private practice experience was essentially a prerequisite before being appointed to an in-house legal role. However, significant changes to the role of in-house counsel and the way in which in-house legal services are being delivered are presenting new and emerging opportunities for fledgling solicitors to take up positions as in-house counsel far earlier than was previously considered possible,” he explained.
“Law firms do offer amazing training opportunities, including extensive on-the-job training and certain specialist training, which historically has been viewed as essential to the development of a successful lawyer’s skill set. However, significant advances in technology have led to some traditional manual functions of law firms like due diligence and discovery, which historically have been used as training grounds and rites of passage for junior lawyers, increasingly becoming obsolete as a result of the emergence of new technologies such as AI and machine learning.
“Specialist training is also increasingly available from a range of different sources, including many excellent online training opportunities. This means that in-house legal departments now increasingly offer very sophisticated training opportunities themselves, including through extensive on-the-job coaching and mentoring of junior lawyers.”
In-house lawyers are also often exposed to a number of different areas of law, which Westpac senior lawyer Wayne Clarke said translated to extensive opportunities for growth.
“For me, one of the key drivers for working in-house out of law school versus going to a law firm was the immediate hands-on practical learning. As a junior in an in-house team, you are immersed in a variety of work from day one. Further, you gain an insight into the dealings of the organisation, holistically, from risk management, strategy, policy and the impact of the provision of your legal services in day-to-day operations. Personally, it was a fantastic opportunity to really develop a sense of true commerciality very early on in my career,” he explained.
“Working with senior lawyers from various practice backgrounds in such a diverse environment provided a real richness to my early career days. Fast forward 11 years, and I still apply the same skills of risk management and commerciality in all my dealings. Having a deep understanding of the organisation you work for, I believe, not only enhances the depth and insight of your legal services, support, or advice but also delivers a real vision (i.e., seeing what’s around the corner, being prepared for it, and advising accordingly).”
Shona Tarulli is the general counsel at Kollosche, as well as the director and principal lawyer at Tarulli Lane. She was employed by MinterEllison before admission and has since gone in-house as well as back to private practice.
“Moving from private practice to an in-house legal role can undoubtedly lead to a wealth of benefits for lawyers, particularly at early career level. As an in-house practitioner, you gain invaluable insight into how businesses operate, how decisions are made, and the legal implications of those decisions,” she said.
“Being part of the decision-making process can help early-career lawyers to understand the priorities of businesses and how legal advice can feed into and impact the overall strategy of a business. Personally, I spent several years pre-admission working as a paralegal in private practice and felt that transitioning in-house was integral to me developing strong commercial acumen and a client-orientated mindset.”
Moreover, in-house experience is good to have if you’re looking to have a varied career or move into private practice later in your career as opposed to earlier, Ms Tarulli added.
“Lawyers with extensive in-house legal experience have an advantage when it comes to transitioning back into private practice. They understand business drivers and what clients require from their legal advisors. This knowledge helps them to work efficiently with their clients, becoming an integral part of the decision-making process while providing sound advice that prioritises the business’s goals,” she said.
“This knowledge and understanding can be indispensable in private practice as you have a really solid understanding of what the client actually wants and how they want legal advice delivered.”