In-house hunting

It’s official: in-house lawyers are no longer the poor relations.

Earlier this year we ran a survey of 2,549 in-house and private practice lawyers, split pretty evenly between the two. The 1,344 private practice lawyers who participated gave us their views on a variety of issues arising from their relationships with their in-house colleagues, but perhaps the most startling statistic was that 65 per cent of private practice solicitors – indeed, 80 per cent of associates – would consider working in-house.

Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean that two-thirds of you in private practice would leave tomorrow, but it is a profound shift. There are a growing number of senior lawyers moving in-house – take Peter Rees, who was a distinguished litigation partner at Norton Rose and Debevoise before moving to Royal Dutch Shell. Put it this way; if we’d run that report five years ago we would never have seen a figure that high.

Is it any wonder? There’s growing disillusion with the hours culture in private practice, despite its evident salary advantages. And if you’re in a global firm the growth is overseas, not in the saturated London market, which means places in the partnership, let alone the equity, are at a premium. No surprise then that we found that a higher percentage of associates than partners see recruitment and retention as an issue for firms, and that they’re more pessimistic than their senior colleagues about global economic challenges.

Added to this, life in a law firm is simply not stable, and there’s deep-rooted scepticism about firms’ stated commitment to developing their staff. The flurry of comments on a couple of weeks ago over Clifford Chance axing 13 associates because of low newly qualified attrition was a sign that more junior, cheaper versions are simply more profitable units for firms. (The words ’fresh’ and ’meat’ come to mind.)

Private practice has become a staging post, meaning the legal sector is starting to look more like the accountancy profession. That’s no bad thing.

lenty of accountants aim at becoming FDs; our survey shows that for lawyers, being a GC has now become a career ambition of itself.