Having carried out work experience both in an in-house legal department for a company and in a law firm, I can say that there are various differences and similarities in the work conducted by both teams. Working in-house as a legal professional is a less-considered pathway at graduate level, with students mainly applying for training contracts in law firms to begin their legal careers. However, working in-house is an option that law students might consider; therefore, this blog post examines the similarities and differences between working in-house and working in a law firm.
Working at a law firm can help you to build and develop relationships with multiple clients, which is one of the main differences between law firms and in-house legal teams. In-house work involves working for a single client – your employer. This means that you do not have to compete to keep up a formal relationship with several clients at once; instead, you will work on tasks dedicated to one client only, and this gives a great insight into the business functions of the sector and the particular direction that makes the business unique. In some ways, knowing a business from the inside can help you to better advise it, as you will understand its culture and business aims.
Although you must have a good understanding of how businesses work to become a lawyer and having commercial awareness is a key skill that graduate recruitment teams look out for, in reality, law firms see the impact of their advice on businesses only through their client interactions. On the other hand, in-house lawyers work within the company that they advise; therefore, they get to see the impact of their work and develop closer relationships with the people whom they advise. This is also why gaining work experience in any kind of commercial environment before commencing a training contract at a law firm is important – as lawyers must understand how their clients’ businesses work from the inside.
In-house lawyers are often (but not always) fewer in number than lawyers in specific, private practice teams. Therefore, in-house lawyers may have the chance to explore a more diverse array of tasks in different areas of their business. Whereas law firm lawyers tend to specialise in one area, working in-house can sometimes allow you to work on different aspects of the law, as there are fewer in-house lawyers available to specialise in each area. However, many in-house lawyers are not involved in litigation – as they often go to law firms for help with this. This means that if you are particularly interested in litigation, in-house practice may not be the right path for you.
In the current market, businesses are searching for different ways to reduce their business costs and may decide to do so by reducing their reliance on law firms. This means that in-house opportunities are diversifying, with consultancy firms and other international businesses preferring to take on in-house lawyers than to hand work to traditional firms. As such, in-house experience may be an option worth considering if you are looking to gain specific insight into one particular business, while remaining focused on a legal career.