The reality of career progression in-house

When considering a move in-house, it’s common for lawyers in private practice to question their prospects for progression, particularly if they have not had previous experience of working in-house.

​This article originally appeared on LinkedIn

When considering a move in-house, it’s common for lawyers in private practice to question their prospects for progression, particularly if they have not had previous experience of working in-house. These reservations often stem from the fact that the path for progression in-house is not as clear cut as it is in private practice, and this uncertainty can create doubts and even deter people from making the move. However, lawyers considering a move in-house need to reassess how they view progression and what their options are.

Whilst progressing in private practice is by no means easy (and requires a lot of dedication!), the path to progress is more clearly mapped out. For associates aiming for partnership, you can work towards this with the comfort of knowing that your firm will keep you informed on whether you’re on track. In addition, attrition over time can provide more clarity on opportunity to progress and allow you to move up the pyramid. Nevertheless, there’s been an increasing number of lawyers who seriously reconsider partnership as their long-term career goal and question whether it is worth the sacrifices. For many of these lawyers, they begin to contemplate alternatives such as moving in-house but may feel nervous about making the move to an environment where promotion prospects might not be as predictable.

Many avenues for progression​

The common misconception is that you can easily hit a glass ceiling and there’s little chance of promotion unless your manager leaves. However, this is often not the case as in-house lawyers typically have more routes for progression:

We’ve seen many in-house lawyers move to roles on the business side or take on hybrid legal/commercial roles.
Lawyers have moved internally into more senior roles in different legal departments.
Economic, regulatory, and political changes may create new teams and offer an opportunity to move up the career ladder. For example, new Brexit specialist legal teams have been created in-house where lawyers have made internal moves to head up these teams.
In a start-up or successful growing business, there have been many occasions where lawyers who were initially part of a small team have been given the task to grow their own sub-team.
A move in-house also offers lawyers a stepping stone to a GC or Head of Legal role with organisations who exclusively look for lawyers with strong in-house experience. Whist it is still possible to move as a senior lawyer from private practice, organisations are more likely to want to hire an experienced in-house senior lawyer.
These are just a few of the examples for ways lawyers can progress in-house. Even if you want to remain in your team, there is still a path for progression, however the time frame is not as clear as it would be in private practice. We often find that our in-house clients avoid making senior lateral hires and instead prioritise promoting internal candidates to allow natural progression. This is one of the main reasons why the in-house market is busier between the 2-6 PQE range and it’s harder to come across senior roles.

Time to make the move?​

It’s important to establish that a career in-house is completely different to one in private practice and you shouldn’t compare like for like. From an early stage in their careers, lawyers in private practice are accustomed to a relatively clear path for progression through a “lock-step PQE system”. But when it comes to in-house, because career pathways are not as clearly mapped out, it’s more of a meritocratic environment. As such, if you back yourself to be successful due to your own merit, it will offer you more opportunities to progress.

When exploring a move in-house, we recommend creating a shift in your mindset or being more conscious of how you view progression. Many view their career progression on the basis of job title, but you shouldn’t limit yourself to this perception as it will ultimately limit your search. Progression can be offered in various ways in-house; it might be through expansion and development of skill-set, exposure to more commercial work, taking on a wider geographical location or gaining managerial responsibilities. Making a move in-house shouldn’t be viewed as a threat to achieving your career goals but a career choice which may open more doors for opportunities than you had initially envisaged when starting your legal career.

If you would like to have a confidential discussion about exploring a move in-house, please contact me on 0207 002 0067 or send an email to stephaniebruckl@hydrogengroup.com

Posted about 6 years ago
About the author:
Stephanie Bruckl

Our blogs and insights help keep you up to date with market developments and regional news