DAC Beachcroft partner Rachel Cropper-Mawer spent time in-house at Willis International and BP before returning to private practice. Here are her tips on how to go back…

Rachel Cropper-Mawer

It used to be that going in house was regarded as a one-way ticket, but nothing could be more different today. This publication has spoken often of the increasingly demanding profile of GCs, dealing with risk and becoming the trusted advisor to the business on a multitude of issues and not just those related directly to legal risks.

The incredible opportunities afforded in-house to build teams and businesses, both in start-ups and well established organisations, has immense draw for ambitious and able lawyers in the legal market. Equally, the gates are no longer locked firmly behind lawyers departing law firms – but it is still unusual to return and that is exactly what I did.

Many people have asked me why and how, usually in that order, so here are my top tips on how to make the transition back to private practice. Or, at least, how to keep the door firmly ajar.

Don’t imagine the grass is greener

Politics and bureaucracy exist in every business and the levels of bureaucracy in firms is growing for similar reasons as those in-house – increasing compliance and cost management. The benefit of being at the coalface of what the business does in private practice is that your work and your work product is the absolute focus of the firm and not just a support function for it. That does mean that there is a different type of pressure and expectation.

You need to have a credible business case if you want to return as a partner

Even if you want to fee earn, you will need to think about how to sell your network to the firm. They will expect you to have built up good relationships and to be thinking about your future in the firm and what sustainable value you can add to it.

Keep those links going with as many people as you possibly can, from everyone you went to law school with through to in-house counsel, GCs, business people and executives you meet while in-house. Online business networking forums have made this easier than ever and there is no excuse not to maintain even what you may describe at first glance as tenuous contacts.

In my case, my experience in-house meant I was able to engage with suppliers and joint venture partners on a frequent basis. In doing so, I was able to build trusting relationships with them that I could carry back into private practice. You may be pleasantly surprised by the level of support you receive from your previous employer when returning to private practice.

It’s essential to choose your private practice platform carefully

You may have trained originally in a firm focused on the tech space but now find that you have focused on a different sector while in-house. Think carefully about whether the firm brand is one that will attract your contacts to give you their business and also whether it has other areas of expertise that your client may require. Being on the right platform and thinking about a holistic offering makes you more attractive to the firm and, by extension, the firm more attractive to your contacts.

While it is important not to give the impression you intend to rely on the internal network, treat all the partners as you would your clients. Every partner is both a potential source of work and may also be able to help your clients, too.

Don’t under-estimate the unique selling point of in-house experience both to the firm and to its clients. The ability to understand how businesses operate from top to bottom and to identify quickly the pressures on in-house counsel and management teams is invaluable. Never undersell this vital aspect of your expertise and experience.

Rachel Cropper-Mawer is a partner DAC Beachcroft