Our guide to moving from law firm to in-house legal counsel

8 mins
Sellick  Partnership

By Sellick Partnership

Making the move from private practice to the world of in-house represents a significant career step for many legal professionals. The opportunity to contribute directly to a company’s strategic direction, coupled with the promise of improved flexibility, makes this professional transition an appealing prospect. 

Although the fast-paced, rewarding nature of working at a law firm has its perks, in-house legal departments can be the ideal workplace for Lawyers who value diverse legal work, developing strong ties, and clearer career advancement opportunities. 

Here, we’ll examine why in-house roles have become a popular choice for a growing number of Lawyers, the advantages of pursuing in-house legal jobs, and the actions you should take to seamlessly transition from private practice to in-house legal counsel.

The evolution of in-house legal counsel jobs 

For many Lawyers, the lure of practising law at a company’s in-house legal department is a favourable alternative to working for a private practice firm. The popularity of in-house jobs among legal professionals has increased in recent years, with research from the Law Society  indicating that the amount of registered In-House Solicitors has tripled over the past couple of decades

With the number of in-house legal job opportunities growing at a rate of 4.4% annually, it is clear that this trend is showing no sign of slowing down any time soon. There are several factors contributing to this significant legal recruitment development, including: 

  • Hiring In-House Lawyers is more cost-effective than relying on external law firms.
  • Companies require dedicated in-house legal teams to support them in navigating an increasingly complex regulatory landscape.
  • In-house legal counsel can provide valuable and proactive advice on how to mitigate risks while supporting business goals.
  • In-house legal professionals typically possess a blend of legal expertise and business acumen, invaluable for companies in need of commercially sound legal advice.

These key elements not only shed light on why in-house legal counsel is becoming an ever-more popular avenue of employment, but they also reflect the changing nature of the legal profession in general. 

Although hiring challenges like a shortage of available talent and limited resources may hamper the recruitment efforts of companies seeking exceptional in-house legal specialists, the desire to recruit these in-demand professionals is likely to remain for the foreseeable future. 

What are the benefits of transitioning to in-house legal counsel? 

Given that the demand for in-house legal professionals is far outpacing the supply of suitable applicants, now is an ideal time for Lawyers to make the move to in-house teams. A recent Law Society report labelled in-house practice as the ‘fastest-growing sector in the legal profession’, with in-house Lawyers making up a quarter of the legal workforce. 

With that in mind, we’ve put together some of the most common benefits that in-house legal professionals can expect: 

Diverse legal work

One of the most significant advantages of moving in-house, is the sheer variety of legal work there is. In-house legal departments typically deal with a broad array of legal issues, from contract and employment disputes to regulatory compliance and intellectual property. This diverse spectrum of work enables in-house Lawyers to gain a wealth of experience and develop a broader set of skills that can help them advance their careers. 

Clear career development paths 

In-house legal departments can provide better career advancement opportunities than traditional private practices. This is partly because larger organisations tend to have clearer, more defined career paths with various levels and specialisations. In-house counsel roles are usually long-term, stable positions, providing the employee with plenty of time and opportunity to seek promotion, potentially resulting in leadership jobs within the legal team, or even moving into non-legal executive roles. 

Improved flexibility

Perhaps one of the most attractive personal perks of in-house roles is the level of flexibility offered. From hybrid working options, to an understanding of external or personal commitments, this can lead to an improved work-life balance. In private law firms, Lawyers are expected to bill a certain number of hours to meet targets and generate revenue for the firm, while in-house professionals can have more stable and predictable schedules. 

Enhanced client relationships 

A fundamental aspect of in-house legal counsel is working closely with a single client rather than serving multiple clients for a private practice law firm. This dynamic allows Lawyers to develop a more collaborative relationship with their clients and a deeper understanding of the company’s legal needs and business objectives. This close alignment with a single client is also a favourable option for legal professionals interested in specialising in a particular industry. 

Top tips for moving from law firm to in-house legal counsel

As we established earlier, transitioning from private practice to an in-house department has emerged as a popular option for many Lawyers. With advantages including a greater variety of legal work, career advancement opportunities, and an improved level of flexibility associated with in-house legal roles, it is unsurprising that a growing amount of Lawyers are choosing this career path. 

Although it is fairly common for in-house legal professionals to contend with challenges like increased regulatory scrutiny, evolving business models, and economic volatility, these issues aren’t deterring some of the best and brightest legal minds from making the move. Deciding to pursue an in-house career can undoubtedly be a forward-thinking career move, but what are the best ways to go about it? 

Here, we’ll cover the top tips you should take on board to transition from the world of private practice to in-house counsel with ease: 

1. Conduct a thorough self-assessment of your goals and skills 

Before reaching your final decision about whether to make the switch to in-house counsel, it is important that you take time to double-check that this is the right course of action for your legal career. An essential part of this thought process is clearly defining your motivations. Do you like the idea of forging a strong relationship with a single client? Or perhaps you seek deeper specialist knowledge of a particular industry? 

Asking these key questions can help you identify the reasons why you wish to enter the in-house counsel space. Once you have pinpointed your motivations, be sure to take stock of your skills and strengths and how they align with the duties of an in-house legal professional. There are a number of skills you need to refine before starting your in-house counsel journey, including: 

  • Legal knowledge: Owing to the diverse nature of in-house work, Lawyers operating in this space need to have a solid understanding of various legal areas, such as employment law, intellectual property, and regulatory compliance.  
  • Business acumen: In-house legal counsel positions also require an in-depth understanding of a company’s business operations. By becoming well-versed in their organisations’ business models and goals, in-house Lawyers can provide legal guidance that directly aligns with the overall business strategy. 
  • Project management: Managing multiple projects simultaneously is a daily occurrence for in-house legal professionals, so overseeing various projects while meeting deadlines is crucial. 
  • Soft skills: As with any legal position, in-house roles require a selection of important soft skills. Excellent communication, teamwork, problem-solving, and negotiation skills are necessary for effectively carrying out the duties of an in-house legal professional. 

Having identified your goals and unique skills, selecting an industry or company that aligns with your expertise may be a good idea. For instance, if you specialise in resolving high-profile commercial disputes, you could pursue commercial litigation-related positions.

2. Tailor your CV and cover letter

Your CV and cover letter provide you with a golden opportunity to highlight your skills and expertise, and it is vital to ensure that they stand out to potential employers. Employers in the legal industry take an average of 8 seconds to review a CV, so you need to make sure that your application offers a compelling snapshot of your achievements, skills, and ambitions. 

You need to ensure that your CV and cover letter explicitly showcase your legal aptitude, business acumen, and knowledge of the company’s industry. As well as referring to relevant experience, you can demonstrate evidence of your legal talents by outlining your achievements. In your CV, be sure to include a bullet point list that outlines the positive outcomes of your legal work. Relevant accomplishments may include successful negotiations, risk mitigation, or cost savings. 

Here are some more of our recommendations for ensuring that your CV impresses employers seeking in-house talent: 

  • Outline relevant experience and industry expertise that aligns with your potential employer’s business.
  • Emphasise the positive relationships you have forged with clients.
  • Demonstrate your problem-solving skills by highlighting occasions where you’ve provided legal advice to resolve challenges.
  • Include training that may be relevant to in-house counsel positions, i.e. compliance training.
  • Customise your CV for every application by aligning your skills and experiences with the role’s specific requirements.

While a compelling CV is undoubtedly pivotal when applying for legal jobs, submitting it in tandem with an outstanding cover letter can be decisive. Here are the key factors you should consider when composing your cover letter for in-house counsel roles: 

  • Demonstrate knowledge about the company and express genuine interest in contributing to its success.
  • Emphasise your ability to adapt to the business needs of an organisation and your willingness to take on a broader range of responsibilities.
  • Discuss your desire for a more integrated role within a company.
  • Convey your interest in a long-term commitment to the company and your dedication to adding value over the long term.
  • Highlight how your values align with those of the company, showcasing your understanding of its culture.

Writing top-quality CVs and cover letters can be difficult, especially in the legal industry, where employers are renowned for having a keen eye for detail. If you’d like to learn more about how to create the perfect legal CV, we encourage you to read our ‘Tips to make a legal recruiter love your CV’ guide.

3. Build vital connections through networking 

Networking can be pivotal for legal professionals looking to elevate their careers. This is especially true for Lawyers who want to make the move from private practice to in-house counsel but may lack relationships with individuals who can connect them with their ideal roles. Networking not only opens doors to rewarding job opportunities but can also provide an abundance of invaluable support and insights that aid you in moving to in-house counsel. 

But before rushing to make new contacts, be sure to leverage your existing network first. You could reach out to ex-colleagues or mentors who have decided to transition from law firms to in-house counsel, asking them to offer insights into different companies and potential contacts within your desired industry. In addition to reaching out to people you know, you could also attend industry-specific events and join professional organisations with a view to expanding your network. 

Utilising online networking platforms is another ideal way to make new connections within the in-house community. Optimising your LinkedIn profile to showcase your experience and legal expertise will likely pique the right people's interest. Sharing insightful content and engaging in discussions will also help establish you as a high-quality potential candidate for employers. 

Our final thoughts on moving from law firm to in-house legal counsel

The transition from private practice to in-house represents a fitting career choice for legal professionals seeking a diverse range of work, well-defined career paths, and improved flexibility. Over the past few years, there has been a significant increase in the popularity of in-house counsel jobs, with numerous benefits such as diverse legal work, enhanced client relationships, and robust career development opportunities driving this growing demand.

For those considering this transition, a strategic approach is essential. Begin with a thorough self-assessment of goals and skills, aligning them with the requirements of in-house counsel roles. Networking is pivotal, leveraging existing connections and online platforms to expand your reach within the in-house legal community. Tailoring your CV and cover letter to showcase legal aptitude, business acumen, and industry knowledge is vital, emphasising relevant experience and achievements.

Lastly, tapping into legal recruitment agencies and job boards can streamline the job search process, connecting you with opportunities aligned with your career aspirations. With the right preparation and a proactive approach, the move to in-house counsel can unlock a fulfilling and rewarding chapter in your legal career.

Experts in providing market-leading legal recruitment services

Since forming in 2002, our recruitment solutions have benefited countless clients and candidates. As an award-winning agency with unrivalled knowledge of the legal recruitment space, we are passionate about helping legal professionals secure their ideal in-house counsel jobs. Our Consultants have an in-depth understanding of recruitment in the legal sector, allowing them to connect job-seekers with fulfilling career opportunities throughout the UK. 

Get in touch with us today if you’d like to learn more about how we can support you in achieving your career goals.