Hiring your first in-house lawyer in Italy

Author Nicoletta Ravida
May 13, 2018

We are a specialist legal & compliance recruitment business operating since 1989. Our global presence enables us to provide our clients with a truly international solution to their hiring needs.

The strength of our brand and the quality of our people allows us to work with some of the best-known multinationals in the world. Almost all our people are themselves qualified lawyers, ensuring an in-depth understanding of our clients’ business and challenges. Our technical expertise combined with our market knowledge enables us to source the very best talent for you.

Our reputation across all the markets we operate in is based on honesty, discretion and professionalism which is why many of our key client relationships date back almost thirty years.

The Italian and Southern European market is covered from our office in Milan and headed up by Nicoletta Ravida.

Briefly and by way of introduction, I joined Taylor Root in 2016 to head the launch of Taylor Root’s Italian office and expand their business offering in Southern Europe.

I started my career in legal recruitment in Paris more than 10 years ago, where I joined headhunting firm Laurence Simons. I spent five years in Paris, one year in Singapore before moving to Milan.

I have handled instructions in Italy and Southern Europe placing candidates across several jurisdictions, at all levels of seniority and across a wide range of industries, including many of the world’s best known multinationals. Prior to moving into recruitment, I practiced as a solicitor for 5 years in Rome. I hope you will find this guide useful.

Nicoletta Ravida


Our capability

In-house: Our in-house division recruits for a wide cross- section of various industries, from Legal Counsel positions through to Legal Director and General Counsel. We enjoy preferred supplier status with a significant number of leading domestic and international blue-chip organisations.

Private Practice: Our experienced team of dedicated consultants have strong relationships with all of the top-tier, mid-tier and boutique law firms and are well connected and expertly placed to help both candidates and clients succeed and thrive in the current market.

Compliance & Risk: With dedicated compliance teams in all of our global offices, we consult to a wide range of blue- chip clients across the banking and financial services market. These include investment, retail & private banks, investment & fund managers, hedge funds, insurance & mortgage companies, wealth managers and consulting firms.

Interim: We offer temporary and contract recruitment solutions depending on our clients’ needs, which often involve specific projects, assistance for busy periods, cover for a sabbatical or maternity leave, or whilst a permanent lawyer is being sourced. We offer a range of flexible solutions where clients can employ lawyers and compliance staff on a fixed-term contract, weekly, daily or hourly rate.

Why recruit your first lawyer?

There are numerous reasons a company decides to recruit their first in-house lawyer. Traditionally the key driver was to reduce reliance on external law firms and the associated costs of briefing work out. However, the intangible aspects of bringing legal work in-house as well as heightened corporate governance and changes to regulations that are sweeping across Europe are now often the main consideration for companies.

An in-house lawyer is able to:

When to recruit your first lawyer

Companies generally decide to bring their legal resources in-house when their external legal fees exceed c.$230,000 per annum. The cost/benefit analysis of legal spend appears straight-forward as a lawyer on a salary of half of this amount still represents a significant cost saving. However, it is not always the case that recruiting a lawyer leads to a reduction in external legal fees. Quite often it can be the exact opposite;   an in-house lawyer can critically examine legal practices and processes and potentially uncover issues that have previously been ignored or dealt with at a basic level, which can increase the work that needs to be briefed out to law firms.

What type of lawyer to recruit?

Route to qualification

In Italy, a ‘lawyer’ is either admitted and registered to the Bar and can appear before the Court (Avvocato) or is not admitted (and registered) to the Bar and is classed as an In-House Counsel (Giurista d’Impresa).

Both Lawyers registered to the Bar and In-House Counsel can work in-house but once a lawyer (who has been admitted to the Bar) moves in-house, they must cancel their registration with the Bar and thus they can no longer plead before the courts.

The common route to qualify as a lawyer is to undertake a Law Degree which normally takes around 5 years of study. At this point, the student can decide to move directly in-house and in this case, would not need to sit the Bar exam. Alternatively, they could undergo the mandatory traineeship to be admitted to the Bar which would involve a 24 month mandatory traineeship with a law firm and upon completion of the traineeship, they must sit a State exam that takes place once a year (in December). This exam consists of a written and oral part which can take place even up to a year after the written exam. In-House Counsel do not need to take any exams and they can start working in-house as soon as they complete their Law Degree.

Level of qualification

A lawyer’s level of experience is counted from the time they are admitted to the Bar or from the day they start working as In-House Counsel and is referred to as Post Qualification Experience (PQE).

It goes without saying that the more PQE a lawyer has, the greater depth of experience they will be able to draw from. The PQE level you recruit will depend on a number of factors including:


The most common skill-set sought by companies recruiting their first in-house lawyer is a background in commercial contracts background. However, the background of the lawyer you are looking to recruit will be influenced by various considerations including:

Companies who are regulated or require a high degree  of  industry knowledge (such as telecommunications, pharmaceutical, technology, construction and energy companies) tend to require lawyers with specific  industry knowledge who  are  coming  from a similar company background, or who have specialised in that practice area within a law firm.

If a company is particularly acquisitive or has a lot of corporate activity, they may look to recruit a corporate lawyer who has some general commercial experience. Generally speaking, it’s easier for a corporate lawyer to pick up commercial work if it arises, rather than a commercial lawyer try and come up to speed with the nuances and complexities of running a corporate transaction.


Lawyers coming from an in-house environment within the same industry are going to be more adept at hitting the ground running and dealing with the breadth of legal issues thrown at them. Furthermore, they are generally going to be more commercially- minded if they have previously been exposed to providing advice in a commercial context. This does not mean lawyers from private practice are unable to make the transition to an in-house role. However, when recruiting your first lawyer, it’s worth taking a calculated risk on someone with a demonstrable track record rather than a lawyer who has little or no experience working in a commercial environment. The exception to this would be a lawyer from private practice who has undertaken a number of client secondments.

Part-time options

If you are constrained by budget and really need experience, you may wish to consider a senior lawyer on a part-time basis. Their salary will be pro-rated by the number of days per week they work, which can make it a much more cost-effective solution. There is an extremely talented pool of senior lawyers who are part-time excellent value for money, industrious and able to get up to speed very quickly. There are very few part-time in-house roles in the market, so you will most likely have a strong candidate pool to consider.

Interim options

If you are constrained by headcount or budget, you may want to consider hiring a lawyer on an interim basis or fixed-term contract. This allows for a high degree of flexibility and a ‘try before you buy’ approach. Recruiting an experienced commercial lawyer into the business for c.3-6 months will allow them to make an immediate impact. They can make headway on streamlining legal processes and deal with external counsel from the outset. Fixed-term contracts are not a common option in the legal industry in Italy but is becoming a more common occurrence due to the financial crisis and the abundance of lawyers within the Italian market.

Notice period

In Italy, a  majority  of  lawyers,  in both private practice and in- house, are on a three month notice period. You should presume that a lawyer will be required to work their full notice period, however, it is not unusual for lawyers to negotiate this down, especially if they are joining from a law firm and there is the potential (actual or perceived) for work to flow from their new employer back to the firm.

Salary and benefits package

Salary and benefit packages vary significantly between sectors and sometimes within the same sector from company to company.

We have provided you with a guide on salaries for In-House Counsel. We have started at 4 years’ PQE as it’s very unusual in our experience for a lawyer with less experience than this to be capable and/or interested in becoming a company’s first In-House Counsel.

Benefits Package

Like salary, packages can vary greatly amongst companies and there is often a standard corporate policy on what benefits will apply. Typically large corporates and FTSE100 companies will offer a comprehensive benefits package that includes some or all of the following; car allowance or fully expensed car, bonus, private health insurance, pension (either contributory or defined benefit), subsidised gym membership and long-term incentive plans. With smaller companies benefits can be minimal which in turn leads to greater emphasis being placed on salary and bonus.

It is highly advisable that the remuneration package includes a bonus component. This acts as both an incentive and retention tool. Bonus is generally around 15-25% of base salary, however this figure can increase year on year.

Depending on the industry, there may also be the potential for the lawyer to be afforded some form of actual or virtual equity participation, whether in the form of a shares, phantom shares, an LTIP, carried interest etc.


Titles vary on the company and its structure at a local level. However, when hiring in Italy one must bear  in  mind  the local titles provided by the local employment laws. In Italy, lawyers  can be employed with the title of Dirigente or Quadro (these are definitions provided by the national collective bargaining agreements. Dirigente is usually the title offered to a lawyer who is part of the management team of a company, or is a member of the board of directors. This title would be appropriate to Heads of Legal or Senior Legal Counsel if they are the only lawyers within a business. This title tends to reinforce how the lawyer will be perceived by the business. The title Quadro will be granted to a lawyer who operates in fully autonomy and who normally reports into a Manager.

The recruitment process

Job description

Lawyers are sticklers for detail. Having a detailed job description is a crucial element of the recruitment process. It forces a company to focus on the specific areas that this new hire will be responsible for, and the type of lawyer being sought in terms of background, level of qualification and skill-set. It will therefore filter out unsuitable or unqualified candidates from the start, which avoids spending time on inappropriate applications. A job description also provides a platform for conversation during the interview process and will allow the candidate to explore any issues of the role, reporting function or management structure that they may not be comfortable with. Job descriptions only need to be one or two pages long and should include the following;


If you are recruiting your first lawyer, it’s going to be difficult to assess their technical expertise unless you are a qualified lawyer yourself. Lawyers can talk a good game; it is easy to be impressed by a confident, articulate and charismatic lawyer when they in fact may not have the technical capabilities that you are seeking. It is therefore advisable to engage the support of a trusted partner from an external law firm who is able to be part of the interview process and give an objective assessment of the candidate’s legal capabilities. Choose wisely as not all external lawyers will have a vested interest in you recruiting an internal lawyer, so you need to ensure their objectivity. If you would like an example of interview questions for lawyers, please let us know.


If a candidate is strong enough for you to extend an offer to, chances are they are good enough for their current employer to counter offer and try to buy them back.

It doesn’t always come down to money, but this situation is largely avoidable if you can pre-empt any disappointment or lure of a counter-offer by exploring this scenario at interview stage. This can be dealt with by a few targeted questions such as ‘What could your current employer change to make you reconsider leaving?’, ‘What would your thoughts be if your current employer tried to buy you back?’. Obviously, there are no guarantees of a completely transparent answer in an interview situation, but at least you can take comfort that you have covered the issue off. It is always worth keeping the number two candidate warm in the event a buy-back does occur.

On-boarding your first lawyer

After the recruitment process is completed, it is extremely important to keep in regular contact with your new hire before they join you. This is particularly important if they are on (and being held to) a long notice period with their current employer.

At the least, they should get a phone call or email from the CEO/CFO – or whoever they will report into to congratulate and welcome them. Sounds simple but it is surprising how few companies actually bother to make such a small gesture (which really goes a long way to reinforce a candidate’s decision).

Even better prior to them joining are an easy way to facilitate this, but even better is a catch up lunch, drinks with the management team or inclusion in any corporate events that are taking place during their notice period. After a flurry of interview activity, which often takes place over many months, it is important to keep the momentum and communication going right up until they join you.