For more insights relevant to the in-house legal space, please sign up to our blog.
To get more insights subscribe using the form below
As many lawyers who have been looking for an alternative legal career will tell you, the vast majority of in-house general commercial roles tend to be offered to people with a corporate and/or commercial law skill set. This has always been the general trend. The result is that some areas of law haven’t been very well catered for, when it comes to alternative legal careers. Once in a while though, good roles do come up which will suit people from another legal background, such as employment, real estate, IP or regulatory law, making a move into industry for the very first time. Right now, as we will go on to explain, Miguel Florit and Andy Balmer are working on an interesting role which is suitable for a criminal, regulatory or professional negligence lawyer.
Over the last 5 years, as better legal recruitment markets have returned, we have seen a shift in the availability of in-house legal roles in which hiring managers look more favourably on skills and experience beyond their ‘usual’ requirements. Sometimes this has been driven by the dearth of commercial lawyers on the move at any given time, and the corresponding flexibility in the mind-set of the particular hiring manager. But there are other factors which come into play depending upon the nature of the company’s business and the way in which its legal requirements are dealt with. One one hand, a real estate investment trust or a developer will look favourably on commercial property skills, and a financial services company will have a willingness to look at pensions lawyers in certain cases, but the opportunities for these individuals to become general commercial lawyers are still quite rare.
In some cases the increased willingness to look at people with a niche specialism has been driven by the sheer size and structure of a legal team and a desire to manage the majority of legal work streams in-house, only turning to external lawyers in special cases, such as major acquisitions or pursuing or defending potentially damaging litigation in the courts . As a result, good roles can and do exist for employment lawyers and commercial property lawyers in bigger departments. These tend to be with the larger companies, such as retailers, with obvious reliance on bricks and mortar and with a large employee base. The general rule is that the larger the company the more likely it is that a specialist lawyer will continue with his or her specialism.
Roles for specialists can sometimes occur in much smaller private companies and the potential here to branch out into other areas is greater. For example, clients we have acted for who are engaged in the importation and resale of goods, and those in a very specialised niche in which the company has a strong market share, or those that engaged in research and development have hired IP lawyers who have been able to undertake other legal work . However, it’s true to say that opportunities to branch out are still generally in the minority, when looking at the market as a whole.
Another trend has been for alternative legal careers to be available in ‘commercial contract heavy’ environments for people with skills in employment, property, IP or pensions, particularly if the procurement needs of the company concerned are wide and varied and streamed into categories such as real estate, human capital, technology and media. A small number of the people we have placed into large banks for example, with these niche backgrounds, are now dealing with work radically different to what they did in practice. But it’s still not commonplace.
Another trend across a number of industries is an increased level of regulation. In most cases, these roles tend to have a relatively narrow focus – inevitably based on the company’s particular niche. New legislation, or changes to existing regulatory frameworks have provided lots of opportunities for regulatory specialists in law firms to pursue an alternative legal career. Notable examples would be the consumer credit and FCA, data protection, anti-bribery, as well as advertising and marketing and competition law. All have provide scope for lawyers in practice to make the move in-house. These roles tend to be in the larger companies.
If you’re a specialist in a narrow field and are looking to branch out into wider alternative legal career, what can you do?
Well, patience can be a virtue here since it can sometimes take more than just one move to achieve your goal. After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day!
Playing to the strengths in your CV is important when making your first move. It’s very difficult to jump into something completely different overnight. If you have the opportunity to continue with your specialism, but also combine an additional stream of work in a new role, then do so. Gaining new experience whilst still leveraging off your previous career history is beneficial, since adding just one ‘new string to your bow’ will make you more marketable over the longer term. A former real estate lawyer we placed in-house as a general counsel for a division of a FTSE 250 plc recently used commercial property skills to lever into their first in-house role. Since it comprised 50% real estate work with the balance made up of IP and commercial contract work, finding a job as a generalist was then much easier in the next move.
Flexibility on location is also useful. If you’re an environmental, health and safety lawyer looking to work in-house, but cannot move from where you live it’s going to take longer for something suitable to arise within a suitable commuting distance. Casting the net wider will benefit you, but we appreciate not everyone can do this.
If you can’t find a role with the variety you are seeking but a role in your specialism comes your way, the best advice is to take it. The vast majority of companies we work with will strive to give their best staff career development opportunities and promote from within. So moving into a specialist in-house role, even if it has to be in a very big department, does put you in the right place to be considered for other roles, based on merit and business case. And once you’re working in-house, it’s easier to move into other in-house roles, since almost everyone looks for that experience.
So what do you do if you are in a practice area in which work is declining, or the changes in the legal system have resulted in increased commoditisation and impact to your ongoing career development? What if you are a criminal lawyer, or a professional negligence lawyer, or you deal with insurance fraud? Well, aside from the factors we have mentioned above, some roles will look for transferrable skills and a particular mind-set. If you’re currently working in one of those areas, we have an opportunity with a FTSE350 company in Yorkshire which which may well offer you an attractive route into an alternative legal career in industry, and you can apply online.
The role represents a rare opportunity for someone with criminal, regulatory or professional negligence skills to move in-house for the very first time. In so doing, you will gain valuable in-house legal experience. For a lawyer looking to move within industry, previous in-house experience is usually a key differentiator sought by clients in over 90% of roles we fill. This role will give you exactly that, but without requiring you to have worked in-house up to now. What’s more, you will be able to continue to maintain a practising certificate.
If you’re interested in a move and would be happy to be kept informed of interesting roles like this where your transferable skills can come into play, please give us a call.
Further resources in achieving an alternative legal career can be found below:
Please subscribe to our mailing list for more in-house legal recruitment market insights.