When is the ideal time to move in-house?

I frequently get asked ‘when is the right time for a lawyer to move in-house?’ There is no textbook answer for this. Ultimately it’s a personal decision. I have seen lawyers at opposite ends of the scale from the very junior, say 2 years’ PQE, to senior lawyers including Partners of law firms make the transition. That said, market forces can certainly play a part.

Here are a few things to bear in mind. Generally speaking, in-house legal teams are much flatter in structure and resources less plentiful than a law firm. So hiring managers will prefer to see applications from those with a solid track record and grounding from a well-regarded law firm in their field of practice. Typically the minimum level of experience sits at around the 4 to 5 years’ PQE mark, essentially the cusp of becoming a Senior Associate. At this level it is usually accepted that lawyers will have sufficient technical training and experience to be able to get up to speed without too much supervision and focus more on the commercial aspects of balancing the needs of the business. At this level, lawyers are often seconded from firms to clients and this can inspire them to make the transition permanently. Some lawyers choose to stay in a law firm until they are promoted to Senior Associate and make plans to transition in-house soon afterwards if they cannot see, or don’t envisage, their longer term career in a partnership.

When to move in-house

The longer a Senior Associate leaves it to move in-house the more problematic the move may become. This is especially the case if they haven’t had prior experience in that environment. The perception, no matter whether it’s incorrect, is that a very senior lawyer without in-house experience will be less likely to succeed. Another factor to consider is financial. The longer the private practice lawyer leaves it to make the move, the higher their salary will be. At the top-end, senior associate salaries can exceed in-house rates (for a first move in-house), making the transition less palatable. So perhaps it’s better to get on the in-house ladder earlier rather than later.

As well as remuneration, other factors for you to consider when weighing up your opportunities are; success of the business, growth in the sector, the team (structure, size and reputation), and continuing opportunities for progression and possible flexible working. It’s a competitive market so it’s important to be clear on your proposition and what you want to achieve.

For more in-house career advice please don't hesitate to get in touch.