It is often thought that an in-house environment offers a better work/life balance for lawyers than private practice. While each role needs to be assessed on a case-by-case basis (as there are private practice positions that can offer flexibility and shorter hours and likewise in-house roles that have long hours and little flexibility) at EA International our candidates generally say in-house careers have lived up to their reputation and offered a better work/life balance.
In-House Lawyers – More in the Know
Work/life balance is not to be confused with shorter hours or a slower day-to-day pace of work. In-house lawyers often work long hours in fast and commercial environments. What sets them apart from private practice lawyers is greater predictability and control over the hours they have to work. In-house lawyers have the benefit of seeing an issue develop on the horizon and can therefore anticipate its arrival and the corresponding peaks and troughs in work flow. Knowing this helps in-house lawyers to make allowances and adjustments in both their personal and professional life.
For example, the sales team within a company may have started to talk about making a large deal at the end of the month. Accordingly, the in-house lawyer can foresee that during the week of the deal there will be an increased workload and re-shuffle his or her personal calendar for those particular days. Additionally, the in-house lawyer can re-prioritize their work around the deal so as to accommodate the additional workload. On the other hand, in private practice the first a lawyer may hear about the same deal may be at 5pm on the last day of the month, with a response expected by the following morning. Situations like this tend to force lawyers to throw all social plans for that evening out the window!
Career Progression – Different Models Drive Different Behaviour
With the existence of the time billing model in private practice it is hard not to link working longer hours with career progression. It is often viewed as important to not only meet but exceed billing quotas in order to be distinguished from other lawyers of the same level. In-house lawyers are seldom time-costed and therefore expectations for career progression are different. Personality, managerial skills and quality of advice are emphasized.
Calling in Back-Up
Finally, an important distinguishing feature between in-house lawyers and private practice lawyers when considering work-life balance is the ability to spread the load. When an in-house lawyer is frantically busy, the option is always open to call upon a firm to manage the overflow. Further, transactional work and litigation is often outsourced to firms. Unfortunately for private practice lawyers, there is no such recourse.
While there will be some exceptions to the rule, generally it can be said that the peaks and troughs experienced in law firms are not as apparent in-house, resulting in fewer husbands and wives stranded alone in restaurants and school plays unseen.
If you are considering making an in-house move, call our In-House Consultants, on +61 2 9266 2900 for a confidential discussion about your career.