Advice to an in-house solicitor challenged as to her career aspirations by a friend in private practice

Dear Ash,

I have worked in-house for a company for a number of years and enjoy a good work-life balance, although I do work long hours as and when required. However, I have recently started to question my career aspirations since a good friend of mine, who works in a top private practice firm, ridiculed my career ambitions and stated that I would never excel until I made the move into private practice. She went as far as saying that I would not obtain exposure to “quality” work until I worked in the private sector. Am I really stifling my career by continuing to work in-house?

Ash replies:

First of all, I question whether this friend of yours is really a good friend, considering she seems somewhat oblivious to your feelings when speaking her mind!

Unfortunately, some lawyers working in private practice do sometimes unfairly perceive that in-house lawyers are not exposed to the same degree of challenging work or responsibility as they are. If anything, I can say from my own experience of working in both sectors that an in-house role presents its own unique challenges and opportunities.

I personally found that the level of responsibility and accountability in an in-house role was normally much higher than at an equivalent position in a private firm, largely due to the fact that the ratio of queries in-house normally outweighed the number of solicitors. Thus the lawyers effectively required to deal with

the queries presented to them, with no real regard to their individual levels of experience.

The structure of private practice firms is, in my opinion, more rigid and there are particular boundaries for lawyers of certain levels of experience.

Without doubt, some in-house roles do offer much more flexibility than private practice roles, and as you say you do enjoy a work-life balance. However, more flexibility does not necessarily equate to less work or responsibility. Fortunately, some private practice firms are beginning to realise that a person is not necessarily more productive just by staying in the office past a certain hour. However, some attitudes clearly still need to change.

Only you can determine your career choices. Every individual has different aspirations with regard to their career. However, I think it unwise for you to consider a move solely based on one friend’s perception of your role, especially when this perception seems misconceived. Perhaps you should challenge your friend’s perception of your job and query why she holds the views that she does. If she is still determined to be critical of your career choices, then rather than considering changing jobs, perhaps you should consider changing friends!

 

“Ash” is a solicitor who is willing to answer work-related queries from solicitors and trainees, which can be put to her via the editor: peter@connect communications.co.uk, or mail to Studio 2001, Mile End, Paisley PA1 1JS. Confidence will be respected and any advice published will be anonymised.

 

Please note that letters to Ash are not received at the Law Society of Scotland. The Society offers a support service for trainees through its Education and Training Department. For one-to-one advice contact Education and Training Manager Katie Meanley on 0131 476 8105/8200, or KatieMeanley@lawscot.org.uk .

 

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