Time and again, we meet with lawyers keen to make the move in-house, citing improved work-life balance as their key motivator.
Obviously, in-house lawyers service just one client: the company for which they work. This means there’s no pressure to recruit new clients or build a profitable practice. And, as their sole client pays their salary, billable hours are no longer such an important part of the equation.
The thing is, while in-house roles are generally sans-timesheets and much more flexible (offering working-from-home arrangements and the like), it is unlikely that workloads, deadlines, or outputs are different to those in private practice.
Most significantly, a move in-house requires a fundamental career change—you must be willing to manage an expert panel of lawyers, rather than act as the expert lawyer yourself.
As an in-house lawyer, you’ll be less concerned with the details of the law. Rather, you’ll be expected to find solutions to commercial problems—solutions that bolster your company’s bottom line—a concept that some lawyers may find challenging.
You might also find that because in-house legal teams are quite small, there is generally no easy, sustainable long-term legal career path (except in a large corporates like BHP or LendLease). You may have to transition into a more commercial or managerial role when a promotion rolls around.
That’s not to say that going in-house is a bad career move for every lawyer. Plenty of lawyers thrive in-house, with opportunities to use softer skills such as management, communication, influencing, and leadership.
So, if you’re thinking about making the move in-house ask yourself: do I want to be a lawyer or do I want to be a leader?
If you want a more commercial, management-oriented role, then in-house could be the best career move. If you’re passionate about the law, private practice is probably the way to go.