When even the national newspapers are talking about the salaries of junior lawyers, you know things are probably getting a little out of hand! These pay rises, coupled with flexible working, have removed some of the reasons why lawyers have traditionally left private practice for a career in-house. But is it sustainable, and will it actually change anything?
Basic economics tells us that the extra money practice lawyers are being paid has to come from somewhere. It will either be longer hours, larger bills or reduced partner drawings.
Longer hours are not sustainable for most of us. At some point in life, we all want to have a healthy work-life balance. And our employers reap the benefits too – numerous studies support the theory that happy, contented employees produce better quality work. Quality over quantity wins out.
Also, not all GCs are happy with the salary shift. They understand the market is pushing this, and their law firms have to react. However, it will impact on the volume of work they pass to law firms, and how they look to resource their teams over the coming year. From the conversations we are having with our clients, there is a desire to bring more work in-house, and creating larger, more commercial teams that can deal with a wider range of legal and commercial issues and embed themselves into the business.
So, if the gap between in-house and private practice salaries has grown, where does in-house have the edge?
In my experience, job satisfaction is less about earnings and is more commonly linked to ideas of ownership, variety, progression, leadership, pace, opportunity to influence and a flexible culture.
Even a junior in-house role offers these opportunities from the outset. So what does day-to-day life in an in-house role actually look like?
Legal teams in-house are often leaner and flatter in structure, as a company’s core purpose is to make a profit. Going from a fee earner in private practice to a support function in-house can pose its own challenges but importantly, the expectation changes. You are now part of a well-oiled machine – you help to determine the changes and the future direction of the company, you are no longer in a reactionary role, you take ownership and control over decisions, getting to see the end product and have your work seen and appreciated by more than just your supervising partner.
The advice you offer becomes smoother and more concise as you move at pace with the company’s expectations. But crucially, not all that expectation rests just on your shoulders – the sales, marketing and compliance teams all have their parts to play, so an actual work-life balance is achievable and enjoying your weekends becomes a reality.
As the business evolves you evolve with it – its peaks and troughs provide you with the opportunity to think creatively and be more solutions-orientated, leading you to grapple with legal issues outside of your specialism, which will definitely keep things interesting. An in-house lawyer will also often be offered shares, giving you the opportunity to benefit directly from the profits the business makes.
Additionally, stripping back a hierarchical design leads to a fluidity in culture that is unique to each company and influenced by each member of the in-house team, so from the very beginning you begin to shape your own working environment.
What may surprise you about an in-house role is the salary. Each company’s salary gradings are different within each sector and not always reflective of that industry’s market share or security of investment. Companies can often pay a premium for a niche skill. However, despite what we are being challenged on daily, it is unlikely generalist in-house salaries can compete with the current inflation of salaries offered in private practice.
As I said though, it all comes down to what are your motivating factors. If anything here strikes a cord with you, let's talk.