How To Move Back To Private Practice After Working In-House
A persistent and common myth that prevents large numbers of lawyers from making the leap to an in-house role is the fear that there is no turning back to private practice once they have made the move. That myth is perpetuated by the visible lack of lawyers with in-house experience in law firms.
At EA International, our experience is that in-house lawyers seldom return to private practice, not due to lack of opportunity but because they prefer the in-house environment. Most of the lawyers that have made the move in-house have found that it has offered what they were looking for and do not seek to return to private practice.
While returning to private practice is an option, in-house lawyers may face a number of hurdles. So before committing to making a move back to private practice it may be useful to consider whether a move to another company or industry in-house could offer what you are looking for.
The hurdles to returning can be easily overcome with some foresight and planning. In-house lawyers wishing to return to private practice may have a diminished client base – clients will have been redistributed and loyalties will have shifted. Further, in-house lawyers may not have the proven track record in business development. Many lawyers that attempt to make the transition endeavour to bring existing clients with them to the firm, however this doesn’t always eventuate and law firms are often loathe to make hiring decisions based solely on the possibility of one additional client.
Furthermore, law firms often make assumptions about in-house lawyers that may or may not be justified. It is often (and incorrectly) presumed that in-house lawyers are rusty on cutting-edge legal developments; unable to cope in a time recording environment; and potentially less polished than private practice lawyers. This is particularly true when lawyers have been out of private practice for a long time. Debunking these presumptions during the interview and negotiation processes will go a long way in securing a private practice role.
The final hurdle facing in-house lawyers is that their experience may be seen as too “general” or “broad”. Whilst it can sometimes be seen as a positive it doesn’t sit particularly well with the specialised approach of large firms.
The advantages of having worked in-house, however, can far outweigh the disadvantages when looking to return. In-house work gives rise to a number of unique selling points that differentiate in-house lawyers from other private practice lawyers that have lacked the experience.
The experience of operating closely with the business in a commercial environment gained by in-house lawyers demonstrates an ability to think laterally and also build rapport with stakeholders. These are invaluable traits for business development within a firm.
The biggest comparative advantage that an in-house counsel has is the fact that they know what it is like to be “the client”. Therefore, they will have the commercial awareness and understanding of client expectation: urgency, depth and breadth of advice and above all, cost efficiency.
Many return as special counsel or consultants, leveraging off their specialised industry experience. “Returners” are diversely scattered between all different levels of firms: top tier, mid tier and boutique.
Ultimately, if handled correctly and if you can overcome the hurdles mentioned above you should be able to make a smooth transition back into private practice.
If you are considering making such a transition, call Maciek Motylinski on +61 2 9266 2900 for a confidential discussion about your career.
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