If you are thinking about moving in-house or would like to keep it as an option as you progress through your legal career, there are a number of steps you can take to ensure you have the best possible chance of making the move when the time comes.
Firstly, you should align your experience with the in-house industry you would like to work in. Over the years we have seen lawyers look to make the move in-house to their dream company only to find that it was going to be extremely difficult – the back-end property lawyer looking to work in-house for a fashion label or the litigator looking to work for a technology company. When companies look to recruit they seek people with the skills most appropriate for their industry. For example, if you have a burning desire to work for a technology company but are doing property work you should look to transfer to the TMT team. You should make the move to the aligned industry as soon as possible. This is most easily done within the current firm in which you work, where you have the relationships and the connections to enable it to happen. It can also be achieved by moving firms, although this is more difficult.
It is important to note that there are some private practice teams from which it is very difficult to make the move to any in-house team. Very few companies are engaged in sufficient litigation or corporate activity regularly enough to justify having in-house counsel with these skills. That, in part, is why firms have such large corporate and litigation teams – it’s seldom work done in-house.
Further, undertake as many secondments as you can. Secondments are viewed very favourably for a number of reasons: they demonstrate your desire to move in-house; they show that you are able to adapt to the in-house environment and that you like the environment; and they give you valuable technical and soft skills. Again, if possible, align the industry of the secondment with the industry you ultimately wish to move to.
Finally, undertake as much contract negotiation and drafting as you can. A common thread of all in-house roles is the negotiation and drafting of contracts. The more contracts and the greater the variety of the contracts you have negotiated and drafted, the better.
Start looking for your in-house role early. The in-house legal market is a lot smaller than the private practice market and accordingly in-house roles come up less frequently, so you should allow yourself more time to find the right role.