How to break into in-house legal jobs

8 mins
Sellick  Partnership

By Sellick Partnership

From newly qualified law graduates to highly experienced Solicitors, in-house roles appeal to legal professionals at all stages of their careers. In-house positions often intrigue legal candidates, promising diverse challenges, closer involvement in business operations, and job security. Blending legal expertise with commercial awareness, these roles represent a perfect opportunity for career development. 

However, breaking into this competitive field requires far more than just legal aptitude. To secure a sought-after in-house legal position, you must adopt the right preparation strategies, have a deep understanding of the evolving landscape of corporate legal departments, and have a passion for building long-term working relationships. 

In this guide, we’ll delve into what to expect as an in-house legal professional and examine the most effective practices for securing your perfect in-house role. 

What to expect as an in-house legal professional 

An increasing number of high-quality candidates are choosing to pursue careers in the in-house legal scene. According to figures published by the Law Society, in-house legal professionals now make up over a quarter of the profession. So, why is it that a quarter of the UK’s legal workforce have chosen to ply their trade within in-house legal departments? 

Here are the key benefits associated with in-house jobs: 

  • Flexibility: Generally, in-house legal positions offer an improved level of flexibility, which can lead to a better work-life balance. Employers often understand personal commitments and have a flexible approach to hybrid working. 
  • Highly collaborative environments: Joining a company’s legal department means you will be working closely alongside like-minded Lawyers and other functions within the business. This tight-knit style of working will enable you to develop your all-important interpersonal skills, and fostering stronger relationships with other departments will help you gain a deeper understanding of your organisation’s culture.  
  • Variety of work: As an in-house Lawyer, you’ll be expected to deal with a wide range of legal matters, allowing you to enrich your knowledge of legal areas you weren’t familiar with before. You may also be asked to perform duties that aren’t strictly related to legal work, such as handling media enquiries, participating in board meetings, and ensuring regulatory compliance. 
  • Competitive compensation package: One of the most significant benefits of working for a company’s legal department is the competitive compensation, with the average salary for in-house legal counsel in the UK currently standing at an impressive £83,891. Aside from salary, the additional benefits are often quite impressive. These can include pensions, bonuses and car allowances, as well as a range of inclusive benefits. 

However, while breaking into the in-house legal space undoubtedly comes with its advantages, it is important to bear in mind that there are certain factors you must consider before pursuing roles within companies’ legal departments. Working within a business may expose you to pressure from other departments, while other issues like limited intellectual challenge and a lack of control over workload may also pose problems. 

Ultimately, your chosen path depends entirely on your unique career goals and lifestyle preferences. If you desire a better work-life balance, a collaborative working environment, and relatively high job security, then moving into the in-house legal profession is probably the right path for you. 

Having trouble deciding whether to switch jobs? In the fast-paced world of legal recruitment, it can often be a struggle to work out the right time to make a career transition. If you are in this position, we encourage you to read our 'Why there is never a perfect time to change jobs' guide, which provides you with top tips you need to seamlessly make a career transition. 

Strategies for securing in-house legal jobs

Whether you are at the start of your legal career or a seasoned Solicitor seeking a new and exciting challenge, securing an in-house legal position represents a meaningful milestone. With advantages like professional growth, a deeper connection to the business world, and job stability available to those who work in legal departments, it is understandable that you wish to follow suit. 

However, before sending out applications, it is vital to acknowledge that breaking into the in-house legal space requires detailed planning and preparation. By following the steps we outline in this section, you’ll be well-equipped to land your dream role within an organisation that suits your needs. 

Here are the best practices you should follow to prepare for your in-house legal career: 

1. Gain relevant qualifications, skills, and experience

Familiarising yourself with the qualifications, skills, and experience you need to successfully secure in-house legal jobs is a vital initial step. First and foremost, it is essential for aspiring legal professionals to gain the relevant academic qualifications.

After gaining a bachelor’s degree in law, you’ll need to complete a legal practice course (LPC) or solicitors' qualifying exam (SQE) before being admitted to the roll of solicitors by the Solicitors Regulation Authority. Find out more about the LPC and SQE route here.

Gaining sufficient work experience is paramount. If you are an early-career legal professional, you could gain experience through internships, Paralegal roles, or training contracts. For accomplished Solicitors looking to move in-house, you’ll be able to impress employers by highlighting your experiences and achievements with your previous/current employer. 

Looking for opportunities to develop skills outside of your core legal practice, such as pro bono work or involvement in business-focused initiatives, will also help to make your application stand out. 

To succeed as an in-house legal professional, possessing a combination of legal knowledge, business acumen, and interpersonal skills is a must. As we alluded to earlier, in-house positions tend to involve a diverse array of duties, so being flexible and versatile with your professional attributes is likely to win over employers. Here are the key skills you need to pique the interest of employers: 

  • A solid, demonstrable understanding of legal principles is crucial. Be sure to flaunt the legal skills you have acquired during your academic and professional experiences in the law sector. 
  • Depending on the company and role, you might need expertise in specific areas of law, including contracts, intellectual property, employment law, or regulatory compliance. 
  • Understanding the company's industry, operations, and ambitions is key for providing relevant legal guidance. As such, you should go above and beyond to understand your potential employer’s sector in depth. 
  • Being well-versed in how a company measures financial performance is another competency employers may look for in in-house legal candidates. We recommend that you familiarise yourself with how legal decisions can impact a company financially. 
  • Excellent written and verbal communication skills are paramount, particularly when explaining legal matters to non-legal professionals.  

2. Connect with potential employers through networking

The value of networking cannot be understated, especially in the legal sector, where making connections with potential employers is standard practice. In the world of in-house legal recruitment, many employers do not publicly advertise their available roles; instead, they choose to fill the positions through networking and employee referrals. 

By engaging in effective networking, you can gain access to a wide variety of hidden opportunities and forge relationships with businesses and like-minded Solicitors. As well as helping you find under-the-radar job opportunities, networking can be a great way to find insider information about companies and their legal departments. 

For instance, if there is a particular organisation you aspire to join, making acquaintances from that business will enable you to discover more about their culture, values, and current legal needs. Having a strong professional network with people who can vouch for your talents can also raise your chances of securing an interview or job offer through recommendations and referrals. 

When finding a meaningful role likely to advance your in-house legal career, networking is an invaluable tool. Analysis published by HubSpot reveals that 85% of jobs are filled through networking, a figure that highlights just how decisive the practice can be in securing a role. Here are the top tips for networking effectively in the in-house legal space: 

  • Leverage online platforms: Joining professional networking sites like LinkedIn will provide you with the platform you need to engage with legal professionals and potential employers. With a strong profile that showcases your skills, career goals, and experiences, you’ll be able to catch the eye of firms seeking in-house legal talent. 
  • Attend legal industry events: Attending events specific to the in-house legal space is another great way to meet like-minded professionals and companies. Be sure to participate in legal conferences, seminars, workshops, or any other opportunity where you could make connections that lead to job offers. 
  • Maintain contact with connections: Staying in touch with former colleagues, classmates, and employers you meet through networking events is paramount. Building a strong professional network relies on nurturing relationships and maintaining ongoing communication with connections. 
  • Be vocal and visible: Doing activities like volunteering for speaking engagements, writing articles for legal publications, or participating in panel discussions will increase your visibility within the in-house legal community. This can improve your professional reputation and attract more job opportunities.

3. Write a compelling application

Once you feel confident enough to apply for your ideal in-house legal position, it’s time to craft a compelling application. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to tailoring your CV, cover letter, and LinkedIn profile, there are various best practices you should pay close attention to when customising your application materials. 

If you are a recently qualified Solicitor looking to kickstart your career in a company’s legal department, your application should focus on the legal skills you have attained during your studies and any internship, placement, or training contract experience. Seasoned legal professionals looking to transition into in-house counsel should be able to highlight an abundance of examples that underline their legal prowess. 

For instance, private practice lawyers may wish to draw attention to experiences that may be relevant to in-house legal work, such as risk management, regulatory compliance, and advising on commercial contracts. If you are in this position, we recommend that you check out our guide to moving from private practice to in-house legal counsel for advice on how to refine your CV and cover letter for your career transition. 

Importantly, applications for in-house legal jobs should focus on your business knowledge as well as your legal skills. Solicitors within a company’s legal departments are usually expected to have significant commercial awareness, and that’s why it’s crucial for your application to showcase your understanding of your potential employer’s industry. 

After you have written your CV and cover letter, there are several checks you should make before sending them off, including: 

  • Proofread meticulously to identify and remove typos and grammatical errors.
  • Ensure that you have adequately highlighted your soft skills.
  • If possible, address your cover letter to a specific person at the business.
  • Utilise a professional CV template that forgoes outlandish fonts and covers.
  • Seek feedback from fellow Solicitors, career advisors, or former colleagues.

4. Prepare for interviews 

Communicating your skills, strengths, and career goals in writing is one thing, but selling yourself as a stand-out candidate to Hiring Managers in interviews requires a wholly different approach. 

Not only do you need to convey your legal expertise and business acumen, but you must also showcase your interpersonal skills and let your personality shine. StandOutCV reports that, on average, employers will interview 6 candidates for every 1 vacancy, so it is vital that you seize the opportunity and gain an edge over the other candidates. 

So, what are the top tips and tricks you should master if you want to emerge as a successful applicant? 

As we explored earlier, the in-house legal space is notoriously competitive, but by following the right advice, you have every chance of sailing through your interview. Here are the steps you need to follow to prepare for your in-house interview: 

Gain a thorough understanding of the role and company

Refining your knowledge of the role and the company is essential for interview success. With a thorough understanding of the organisation’s products, services, and market position, you’ll be able to tailor your answers to demonstrate how your legal skills can contribute to the business’ overall aspirations. You should also meticulously review the job description and requirements, so you are ready to explain how your background aligns with them. 

Practise common interview questions

Rehearsing answers to common legal interview questions is another effective preparation method. You can expect general questions about topics like your motivations for becoming a Lawyer and your prior work experience, but it’s also common to be asked questions relating to the business’ specific sector. Here are the sorts of questions you may be asked in your interview: 

  • Why did you want to become a Solicitor? 
  • What attracted you to this organisation? 
  • If you could bring any law into force, what would it be? 
  • Why are you applying for an in-house legal role? 
  • How do you approach collaboration with other departments?

Prepare for behavioural questions 

You must prepare for behavioural questions that ask about your past experiences and how you handled certain situations. For these kinds of questions, we recommend that you use the STAR answer structure. This acronym stands for: 

  • Situation: Start your answer by setting the scene. Describe the finer details of your situation, speaking slowly and clearly. 
  • Task: Detail the objective or task you were faced with. Think about the goals you were trying to achieve and what was expected of you. 
  • Action: Then, explain the actions you took to accomplish the task at hand. Be sure to emphasise your own unique contributions, including specifics about what you did and why you opted for that course of action. 
  • Result: The final step is to explore the outcomes of your actions. Here, you can tell the interviewer about the results of your efforts and share any qualitative metrics that give credence to your achievements. 

Here are a few examples of the behaviour-based questions your interviewer may ask: 

  • Tell me about a time when you had to navigate a complex legal issue. How did you approach it, and what was the outcome?
  • Can you share a time when you faced a tight deadline or high-pressure situation? 
  • Tell me about a difficult negotiation you were involved in. What strategies did you implement to reach a favourable outcome? 

Ensure you have questions for the interviewer 

Toward the end of your interview, it is highly likely that the Hiring Manager will ask if you have any questions. Asking thoughtful and incisive questions will not only show that you are genuinely interested in the position and the business, but it also allows you to gather information regarding the organisation’s culture, build rapport, and leave a positive lasting impression. 

Here are some questions you may consider asking your interviewer: 

  • How does this role interact with other departments within the organisation?
  • How does the legal department contribute to the business's overall goals?
  • Can you provide examples of successful outcomes that you'd like to see from someone in this role?

Our final thoughts on breaking into in-house legal jobs 

Taking on an in-house legal career offers an array of benefits, including better work-life balance, collaborative environments, diverse work opportunities, job security, and competitive compensation. However, navigating this transition requires careful planning and preparation. 

By gaining relevant qualifications, skills, and experience, networking effectively, crafting compelling applications, and preparing thoroughly for interviews, aspiring in-house legal professionals can position themselves as top candidates for their dream roles. 

Embracing these strategies will not only increase your chances of securing an in-house legal position but also pave the way for a fulfilling and rewarding career. 

Need support from an expert legal recruitment agency? 

As a professional services recruitment agency with decades of experience in the legal sector, we take pride in supporting high-quality candidates to exceed their potential. 

Whether you are an ambitious graduate or a highly experienced Solicitor, our exceptional Consultants have the means to connect you with a position that aligns with your career goals. We also help companies recruit outstanding talent for their locum, contract, and permanent positions. 

Get in touch today to learn more about our market-leading legal recruitment services.