A report published by the SRA (Solicitors Regulation Authority) in February 2014 confirmed what has already become apparent in business circles a while back: In-house legal counsel is growing more popular, both among companies that hire lawyers and put them on the payroll, as well as legal professionals who seek business companies as a place for work. So much so, in fact, that the study found that between 2000-2012 in the UK, the number of in-house solicitors doubled – reaching 25,600 and increasing to 18% of the total solicitor population.
The same research also concluded that:
- The majority of that number – 60% – worked in the private sector, concentrated in financial services.
- Within the public sector, 15% of all in-house solicitors worked in local government and 8% for the Crown Prosecution Service.
- The average age of in-house solicitors was 42 years old, 56% were women and 15% were BAME.
Numbers and figures aside, have you ever wondered exactly why in-house lawyers are such a hot item right now? So have we, and this is what we concluded.
From the perspective of an employee, i.e. the in-house lawyer, there is plenty of upside to the position. For one, being an in-house lawyer is considered to be much more safe and stable, as opposed to working in private practice or as an independent consultant. What is perhaps key here is the comparatively more lenient nature of the role, which offers a better life-work balance. So yes, you’ll have a much better chance of fitting in those three weekly pilates sessions as an in-house counsel than your colleagues working in private practices.
Don’t get fooled: The job is far from a routine, kick-your-feet-up one. As a matter of fact, in-house lawyers have to keep up with a very dynamic pace, as they are required to deal with a wide array of legal issues their company is facing on an almost daily basis.
The in-house role will fit you like a glove if you seek more stability, especially if you’re looking to start a family, and will be the right fit if you prefer working with a more narrow and consistent circle of people. In fact, the success you’ll have in the company will depend on your communication skills and ability to work in a team – in a corporate surrounding, these traits are as important as is your legal prowess and expertise. A private practice is exciting and pays well, but it doesn’t suit everyone; it is unpredictable, and you will always be somewhat detached from both your clients and seeing the long-impact results of your work.
… And one comparative disadvantage
The only downside of an in-house position can be the salary, which is, on average, less generous than one in private practice. The money may be somewhat higher in-house when you’re in the junior position, but due to the fact most companies operate on pre-set pay scales, the level of ka-ching! will not increase as much with your seniority level. That is not to say you will earn a meager figure by any chance, though: PayScale Human Capital reports that in the UK, legal counsels earn an average £58,074 per year, while general counsels can easily climb up to the much-coveted six-figure salary, with the average of £110,118 yearly.
Do you fit in the right profile(s) for the job?
These are the main pros and one possible con, but how do you know you have what it takes in order to ace the role? Most in-house lawyer agree on one: to prove indispensible for the client, the key is to understand the way their business works and get a full grasp of the company’s identity and culture. Only when you acquire the big picture with all the subtleties that mark its organisational structure will you be able to come up with specific and most appropriate legal strategies. Neither the leadership nor your colleagues want to see you flaunt your legal knowledge and expertise around the office; and they especially don’t want you to go heavy on the terminology or the technicalities nobody but you can understand. Instead, learn to “speak the common tongue” and inform the company what is the best solution to their problem, in the simplest and fastest manner possible.
It’s also going to be the simplest and fastest manner possible for you to prove your worth and reinforce the value of in-house legal counsel for the company.