By Patricia Taylor
The results of our most recent member's survey highlighted a demand for an event focussed on practising in house. In response to this feedback, on 15 December 2020, the SYLA was delighted to present 'So you want to be… an in house lawyer?'. The event was chaired by our non-executive Committee Member, Patricia Taylor, who was joined by a panel of expert speakers:
A poll, taken at the start of the event, revealed that our audience was comprised of students, trainees, NQs and above, and SYLA members currently seeking opportunities. Our speakers were well placed to address the various stages of a career working in house.
Given that the event formed part of our 'so you want to be…' series, we thought it prudent to cover the employability aspects of training, or a move, in house. As such, Patricia posed the following opening question to the panel: "What are the core competencies that companies look for in a candidate applying to work in house, perhaps compared to when applying to work in private practice?".
Lynn remarked that the role of in house counsel is akin to that of an 'effective business partner'. As in house counsel, Lynn noted that you are more likely to be on the front line of delivering advice, thus, you will require not only an ability to apply the law, but show an appreciation for the wider business, and take account of how said application of the law, directly affects stakeholders. Sheekha echoed this sentiment, highlighting that one must understand the business as a whole. Marliese stated the importance of curiosity; possessing a thirst to learn and understanding the business of which you form part. Additional key competencies, as listed by the panel, include: being able to rise to the challenge; being a self-starter; embodying 'outcome based' thinking; and demonstrating that you are someone who will strive to get the job done.
To provide delegates with some more practical advice in relation to applications, Patricia then asked the panel where in house jobs tend to be advertised, and what the hiring process typically entails. Thembe, of Edinburgh Airport, stressed the importance of maintaining connections with University recruitment personnel, and careers officers, as many roles are advertised at University level. Thembe also advised that any prospective applicant should take the time to work out where their interests lie, for example, what industry are you interested in, and why? Marliese added that unlike in private practice, you are not a 'growth', but rather, a cost, so it is often a case of waiting for a vacant role to arise. Marliese also commented that there is not always a clear and defined requirement in terms of PQE and as such, one should not be put-off applying to legal counsel roles. Lynn mirrored the above, adding that there is no one real source for advertisements, but that more and more opportunities are being listed on LinkedIn.
In advance of the event, a SYLA member had submitted the following question: "if I have undertaken a fairly niche traineeship, and have, for example, no contract negotiation experience, would this disadvantage me at NQ level?" Sheekha explained that proactivity is key, and that dependant on your organisation, the work is usually diverse, and varied. Lynn noted that two of her team, now operating in the commercial law sphere, trained as property lawyers. Lynn added that prior experience is never the be-all-and-end-all, and that any successful applicant will be able to demonstrate transferability of skill-set.
To offer attendees an insight into the career trajectory of an in house lawyer, Patricia posed the following question to the panel, as previously submitted by another SYLA member: "what are the incentives and opportunities for promotion as an in-house lawyer, given that in-house removes the 'standard' career path of being promoted to associate or partner?". Thembe observed that we need not limit ourselves by job-title, provided that we are developing as individuals – "your job title might not change, but you will grow". Marliese bolstered this point, noting that her job with RBS has offered her a great deal of opportunity to carve out the role that she wants, rather than being confined to the PQE dependant, ladder style of private practice. Sheekha explained that the structure of an organisation is flatter, which promotes a collegiality between colleagues, alongside the opportunity to personally develop recognised expertise. Finally, on this point, Lynn added that a real benefit of the flatter structure is that one is able to take on as much responsibility as possible which may provide exposure to projects (and the ability to lead on the same) at a faster rate than offered in private practice.
Some additional takeaways from our panel pertaining to working hours, stakeholder engagement and their final comments, are listed below: