As a general rule companies tend to look to recruit lawyers with at least two years experience gained in private practice. Companies take the view that firms provide excellent training in the initial years that they cannot offer. Whilst it is not impossible to make the move in-house earlier it is recommended that you spend your first two years in a firm. Law firms have the resources and framework in place to provide the training and support you need during those initial years, while in-house teams being generally smaller will not often have a dedicated training program. Companies will also tend to look for lawyers from those practice groups most closely aligned with their particular industry, i.e. IT practice group/IT company.
It becomes increasingly more difficult to move in-house from approximately 9 years PAE onwards. If you are applying for an in-house role and you are over 9 years qualified you may find yourself competing against a candidate that has had 5 years in private practice and 4 years in-house experience. Everything else being equal, companies are more likely to favour the candidate with the in-house experience because they have already proven that they can make the transition to an in-house environment. Additionally, beyond the 9 years, companies also question the motives behind your desire to move in-house. They will question why you haven’t made the move in-house earlier, as they are concerned that you may have chosen this option only because your partnership prospects are not positive, rather than because you truly have a desire to move in-house.
The best time in your career to move in-house is generally between 2 and 6 years post admission. Making the move earlier or later is not impossible just potentially more problematic.