Moving in-house: when is the right time?

Author Samantha Fong
July 13, 2017

When is the right time to move in-house? This is a frequently asked question and a significant decision to be made by any lawyers who are considering a move in-house.

One of the main reasons you might make the switch and move in-house is the difference in lifestyle. Life in private practice (especially for corporate lawyers) is a little bit manic whereas in-house, generally, is able to offer more stable working hours with better work-life balance.

A few years ago, companies would only consider lawyers with at least 5-6 years PQE, if not more senior. Nowadays, candidates move in-house much earlier around 2-3 PQE, and some clients will even consider NQ or 1 PQE. The reason for this may be due to cost-saving or budget constraints. Some junior lawyers are keen to commence in-house at an earlier stage of their career as they would like to gain exposure to a broader variety of work and to work in a more commercial environment. Lawyers at the 4-7 PQE level are often the best level to move in-house and the lawyers that are in highest demand. Lawyers at this level have gained solid training and spent a few years in practice. Often, they do not have the aspiration to become a Partner and feel it would be the right time to make a change and move in-house where they can work side by side with the business to achieve commercial aims, and put their legal knowledge into practical use. 

Senior candidates often wish to move in-house to be a step closer to decision-making and be more actively involved in the business side. However, there are generally fewer senior roles available in the market, and often the senior lawyers find it quite difficult to accept a bigger cut in terms of the salary, hence moving in-house at a senior end becomes more challenging.

The ideal time to move in-house really depends on your personal preference and when you are ready.  A few factors should be taken into consideration when pondering this move. Once you move in-house there is often limited guidance and it is up to you to pick things up and learn while doing the job. In-house legal teams are relatively lean and there will be limited support. In reality, in-house clients are often looking for someone commercial-minded, adaptable, pragmatic and with a strong sense of commercial judgement. When you move in-house, you are expected to roll up your sleeves and get everything done yourself. This is also one of the reasons why some clients strongly prefer candidates with experience gained from both private practice and an in-house setting.

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