Moving from an in-house attorney position to a private practice law firm has its differences and similarities when practicing law. In an earlier blog post, we talked about moving from private practice to in-house, and debunked some myths about the transition. In this blog, we are going to look at the some of the differences with private practice that should be considered before making a transition from in-house to private, or before deciding on where to work.
Associates that work in private practice tend to make more money than associates who work in-house with equivalent experience and training. However, with higher pay comes longer work hours. In addition, smaller law firms give lawyers more opportunities to work on a complete project, rather than a single task of an overall job. Some people like being given more responsibility, oversight of a project, and being their own boss, while others prefer teamwork. Both of these qualities that are seen in private practice firms should be examined. Are you willing to work longer hours? Would you enjoy being given more independence at work?
Another difference between private practice and in-house is the way a “lawyer” or “attorney” is perceived by the company. In private practice, attorneys are “revenue generating units”, and will be generating proceeds for the company through their work. They’re also an advisor to their clients. Whether the client takes the advice or not, the attorney’s job is to provide him or her with information that serves as a guide to make the best decision.
People who are in-house are expected to know anything and everything about law, from employment, property, commercial to corporate; private practice attorneys are more specialized in their work. You focus on one type of practice area, rather than being well rounded. This is something to consider when transitioning and figuring out what you want to specialize in or enhance a specialization.
Compared to an in-house position, there is more pressure when going into a private practice law firm, and the the bigger the firm, the more pressure you will experience. Another challenge that you must learn to cope with is the amount of competition. Private practice lawyers experience more competition between peers with similar intellect, experience, and competency compared to in-house lawyers. Being more individualistic, the private practice transition may be difficult for those who prefer to work in teams with less competition to be on top.
Lawyers move back and forth between in-house and private practice all the time depending on their jurisdictions and specializations. According to Jalalullail Othman, a senior partner of Shook Lin and Bok in Malaysia, “Private practice gives you the luxury of focusing on the law and not being distracted by other things.” If you like being more focused on a certain practice area of law, going to a private practice law firm may be beneficial for you, and something you would enjoy doing.