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Which Legal Practice Suits You: In-House or Private Firm?
When practicing law, there are two main routes to take – private practice and in-house work.
In the past, private law firms seemed like the only option. But corporations are increasingly investing in in-house legal teams that know their business intimately. This has drastically reduced the need for them to hire a private practice for their legal needs, and opened up new opportunities for lawyers everywhere.
As with any professional choice, there are pros and cons to each of these paths. Read on to find out which legal practice suits you – in-house or private firm?
Depending on the size of the private practice you’re working for, you could be working extremely long hours, as you are at the mercy of your clients. If they need you to work over the weekend, you will most definitely find yourself in the office on a Saturday or Sunday, probably putting in a full-day’s hours. If you’re new to the industry, you can expect 60 to 80 hour workweeks.
If you are on an in-house legal team, however, you can expect a slightly lighter load. You’ll only be working long hours if your company is in a particularly difficult legal spot. There will be exceptions, of course, but working overtime is not nearly as expected in-house as it is in a private practice.
The biggest factor in the salary divide between in-house and private practice lawyers is the way their employer views them. When you’re working in a private practice, you have to deal with billable hours and fee-earning. In this situation, though, you are a source of income. Therefore, you have the perk of seemingly limitless budgets and a high salary. Even those with limited experience could earn six figures.
If you work as an in-house lawyer, however, you are seen as an expense. Depending on how much experience you have and the nature of your position in the company, a move from private practice to in-house work could result in your salary being slashed in half. So with fewer clients comes less money in your pocket and in your budget.
Type of Work
When you’re an in-house lawyer, it’s more likely that you’ll need to be somewhat of a generalist. If you’re in a very large company with an expansive legal team, you very well could have a specialization but it is more likely that you’ll need to be a jack of all trades. Alternatively, private practice lawyers are expected to have an area of specialization.
While you’ll need to keep your finger on the pulse of legal news no matter where you work, private firms often have someone who is assigned that task for you – paralegals, assistants, etc. While some in-house lawyers have access to this help, that often comes with seniority and a very large employer. It is not a common setup outside of a private practice.
It’s also important for in-house lawyers to have significant business knowledge and know their employer intimately. This is because they will most likely be working alongside the business’s leadership, including the CEO, to make important decisions. Though it’s important for private practice lawyers to understand their clients’ businesses, their knowledge does not have to be as expansive as an in-house lawyer’s.
However, in-house lawyers do not have to worry about “rainmaking,” or finding new business and new clients. Because they only service their employer, they don’t have the additional responsibility of discovering, forging, and maintaining relationships with multiple clients in order to bring in revenue.
Depending on where you are in your career, you may be more likely to find a job with a private practice. It’s estimated that only eighteen percent of companies will hire a lawyer with zero to three years of experience. These firms are most likely to hire professionals who have been practicing the law for three to six years.
This actually could work out better for lawyers just entering the field. They’re more likely to get structured training in a large, private practice than with an in-house team.
Both of these paths can be equally fruitful, but it’s important to pick the right one for you. Whether you’re looking to join a private practice or find a position on an in-house legal team, take a look at our job listings. If you choose to apply, one of our expert recruitment consultants will be in touch with relevant opportunities.