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Mobility has become the norm in the legal sector. Whether it is a law firm expanding its offices globally, or a lawyer practising in different countries, making moves in one way or another is important to long-term success. Moving from In-House to private practice is no exception. A number of in-house counsel have indeed returned to private practice for various reasons. This article will look at what in-house counsel should consider when making the transition to private practice.

Is there a right time to make this kind of move?

The general consensus is that there is no perfect time, but the longer one remains in an in-house position, the harder it becomes to move to private practice. Joining at the associate/associate counsel level may be easier than attempting to come on board as a partner, unless you’re bringing a book of business (the company you worked for, perhaps?) Securing a position at the partner level will be difficult.

Why is that? Amrit Rai, Consultant at our Vancouver and Calgary offices, provides a few reasons:

It may be harder for the individual to make the move culturally, given that private practice is a different way of working – counsel would be looking at a change in billable targets, potentially longer hours”.

The longer a person has been practising law, the more focused firms are on the book of business they are bringing. Amrit adds that “law firms are often hesitant to consider hiring in-house counsel as they cannot afford to bring someone on board that commands a high salary, but is not bringing money into the firm from the outset”.

Possible Change in Environment:

It is also important to think of the change in environment. Private practice can be more fast-paced and possibly more demanding; given billing targets is how you’ll make the law firm money. One should also consider the reasons for the initial move from private practice, and whether those reasons will pose a challenge when returning.

Changing your Focus:

Instead of knowing one client (your company) top to bottom, the focus now changes on learning different, multiple clients, being able to communicate and understand what their needs are, and finding a solution that best meets those needs, all the while managing their expectations.

The Skills You’re Bringing as previous In-House Counsel:

As in-house counsel, you have a strong commercial mindset, and business development skills that are highly sought after by potential employers and clients. Hopefully you’ve built a strong rapport with contacts you’ve come across during your time as in-house counsel, therefore having the capacity to generate business for the law firm. Warren Bongard, President and Co-Founder of ZSA, provides some advice for those considering this transition:

The key for a successful return to private practice is the ability and desire of the lawyer to take their industry knowledge and develop it from the client’s perspective. In other words, the lawyer needs to understand how to develop business through and via their in house network, whether it is leaning on relationships that were built in house, or on expertise that is sought after by prospective clients.”

Warren further adds that counsel for the government “offer a distinct advantage to private practice; provided their knowledge gained in-house can be leveraged to assist clients with managing their regulatory needs. Examples could include tax lawyers, competition lawyers and of course federal and provincial prosecutors, just to name a few.”

 Stand Out:

Another tip would be to provide a business plan showcasing how you will generate revenue (without revealing too much, of course) when applying to a law firm, as you want to instill confidence in your potential employer of your ability to build a client base.

As with any job search, the process can be a bit frustrating, but showing your business development skills and willingness to develop a book of business will get you a long way in obtaining a sought-after position in private practice. Best of luck!

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