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Alternative careers in and around the law

In-house lawyer

According to the Law Society, in-house practice “is the fastest growing sector in the legal profession”. Lawyers working in-house make up around 25% of the solicitors’ profession. There are around 33,370 registered solicitors working in-house in England and Wales according to the Law Society’s most recent report. This group is made up of solicitors and barristers, many of whom have opted to move into industry from previous careers in private practice.

Interested in a legal career in-house, read this LCN Says from trainee lawyer Jordan Yohannes on why you should consider an in-house training contract

There are as many different specialist roles in industry as there are in private practice. In-depth specialist legal knowledge gained in private practice is often what the employer will be buying from its in-house lawyers.

A construction company may look to hire a good legal mind to oversee its planning and environmental workload, just as a City financial institution may require a lawyer with broad experience of banking and capital markets.

Obviously, the nature of the work is dependent on the type and size of each business organisation, and on the role that’s specified. For instance, BT employs hundreds of lawyers in its legal department, which is made up of individual specialists covering many disciplines, from intellectual property and patents to telecoms and media law.

Find out more about in-house training contracts and careers with LCN's Feature

In contrast, smaller companies will often employ just one in-house lawyer who’d probably have a much wider brief. In this instance, whatever the nature of the company's business, the in-house lawyer will be expected to provide a full legal and contracts service and have a good knowledge of company and employment law.

In addition, there’ll be the responsibility of ensuring that the company is always compliant with the relevant laws governing its day-to-day operation. In-house lawyers are also usually responsible for instructing and managing outside legal counsel – and for controlling the ensuing legal costs.

Although commercial organisations are usually the main employers of in-house lawyers, an increasing number of non-profit-making bodies (eg, charities and trade unions) are hiring legal advisers to work in-house.

One interesting aspect of working as a lawyer within a non-profit-making organisation is that many of its legal concerns relate to its own interests, in addition to the general laws that affect other companies.

Why be an in-house lawyer?

Whatever the variation, many in-house lawyers seem to prefer the hands-on commercial activity of working in industry and for one 'client', to the quite different pressures of private practice. The long hours often demanded of solicitors in commercial private practice is often enough to provoke interest in an alternative career, even if that means giving up the dream of financial bounty associated with partnership at the top firms.

Career paths

In recent years the contribution made by in-house lawyers to the success of companies has become more highly valued. As a result, with commercial awareness and a good legal mind, in-house lawyers often move swiftly through the ranks of corporate management into senior boardroom jobs.

As for training in-house compared to private practice, there are fewer in-house training contracts available. However, an increasing number of companies are taking on trainees, including BBC, Sky, BT, McDonald’s and Barclays.

If training in industry is your preferred option, you may like to contact either the Solicitors Regulation Authority or the Law Society Commerce & Industry Group (C&I Group) for a list of organisations that offer training contracts. Otherwise, you should contact companies that you're interested in direct for more information.

Read 'Five reasons to become an in-house police lawyer', written by Baljinder Singh Atwal, a solicitor at West Midlands Police.

Salary expectations

In the beginning, be prepared to earn less than those in successful commercial private practice. But as head of a legal department or as company secretary, you could easily expect to earn more than £100,000, with the additional benefits of working for a major company (eg, pension, company car, healthcare schemes and share options).

At the top end, high-flying senior lawyers are increasingly recruited into very senior boardroom jobs at major international corporations.

How to apply

Jobs are advertised in the legal press (including the Law GazetteLegal Week and The Lawyer) and the national newspapers (in particular The Times). There’s also a wide array of websites for legal recruitment.

Useful addresses

The Law Society C&I Group represents solicitors in industry, while the Bar Association for Commerce, Finance and Industry (BACFI) is its counterpart for barristers in employment. Further information and careers guidance should be available from both organisations.

Bar Association for Commerce, Finance and Industry
PO Box 4352

Telephone: 07507 237218
Email address: [email protected]

Commerce & Industry Group
5 High Street
Telephone: 0161 480 2918