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How does Working In-House Differ from Private Practice

Written by: Evie Courtier
Published on: 6 Nov 2023


  • Choosing the direction of your legal career path, whether you’re just starting out as a NQ Lawyer, or looking to transition into a new role, comes with a myriad of decisions to weigh up. Analysing the pros and cons before you make the jump will help you make an informed and considered career move. Ultimately, long-term goals, personal preference, values and your preferred working style come into play, with both in-house and private practice offering a plethora of perks for new job seekers, and seasoned professionals.

  • What is Private Practice?

    Put simply, private practice lawyers work within a law firm, dealing with a variety of clientele. You may choose to work in a specialist firm within particular areas of law such as family, immigration, or corporate law, or select a firm focusing on a broader remit of work.

    In general, private practice lawyers will specialise in one specific area of law, particularly at the outset of their career. Specialising in a certain niche boosts future earning potential and accruement of knowledge. Discover our ‘Training Contracts: In-House vs. Private Practice’ article for more target information for NQ job seekers.

    Alternatively, dive into our ‘How to Choose a Legal Practice Area’ article, exploring the question that’s at the forefront of many aspiring solicitors minds.

  • What is In-House?

    On the other hand, in-house counsel jobs require working within an organisation’s internal legal team, whether it’s a corporation, government agency, non-profit, or other type of entity. Immersing yourself within dedicated legal work for one organisation creates a fluid work routine, with no two days the same.

    Focusing on whatever legal issues arise during the course of business operations, can be an exciting yet daunting task for some. Working within an in-house legal team will expand your breadth of knowledge, building an understanding of various areas of law from commercial contracts and intellectual property, to employment law. As Jonathan Matthews, In-House Legal Counsel at UEFA noted, working in-house offers the chance to ‘get closer to the workings of a single business as opposed to dealing with ad hoc matters of several entities at a shallower depth of wider commercial understanding’

  • What’s the Right Path to Choose?

    Each individual will have a different notion of what their ideal working day looks like. The decision to pursue one path over the other depends on single career goals, lifestyle preferences, and the type of legal work one finds most fulfilling. As demonstrated on site, there are ample opportunities for both ‘in-house counsel jobs’ and private practice lawyer jobs across a multitude of practice areas. So, whether you choose an in-house role which focuses on the needs of one organisation, or the life of a private practice lawyer, serving a diverse set of clients and handling a wider range of legal matters, TotallyLegal have you covered.

    To aid your decision, ask yourself; would you rather be a generalist or specialist? What are your long-term goals? And finally, what is your preferred working style? The two distinct career paths present their own sets of characteristics and advantages:

    For In-House Counsel:

    • Client work: the primary client of in-house counsel is their employer. As an in-house professional, you will provide legal advice and services to help the organisation navigate legal matters and comply with the law.
    • Work Scope: your work will be dominated by internal legal matters directly related to the organisation, such as contract review and negotiation, regulatory compliance, employment law, intellectual property, and internal legal issues.
    • Stability: In-house roles offer strong job stability with more regulated hours compared to private practice.
    • Compensation: compensation for in-house lawyers may include a strong salary, bonuses, and benefits. According to our latest salary survey, those working in-house earn an average of £88,423 per annum, placing them as the 3rd highest earners on site.
    • Team work: much of private practice involves each individual having their own caseload of clients (individuals or companies), whereas in-house work incorporates a collective effort working together to achieve a common goal, creating a sense of comradery.

    For Private Practice:

    • Independence: lawyers in private practice work as independent practitioners or as part of a law firm, offering a certain autonomy. The legal services provided to clients are done so on a fee-for-service basis.
    • Client: working in private practice means you’ll serve a wide range of clients, including individuals, businesses, and organisations, creating a natural variety within the role.
    • Work Scope: you will handle a broader range of legal matters, including litigation, transactional work, and legal representation in court. With the chance to work on a range of diverse cases, specialisation in a particular area of law doesn’t equate to an obsolescence of variety.
    • Client contact: private practice work offers a gateway into regular client communication. If you enjoy communicating with your clients, and being a point of contact, private practice will suit you.
    • Specialisation: acquiring expertise in a certain field, allows you to establish yourself as a specialist in your sector, working on a wide array of legal services for clients with various legal needs.
    • Variability: the workload and working hours for lawyers in private practice can vary significantly. You may experience periods of intense work, including long hours and client deadlines.
    • Long-term goals: private practice lawyers have the potential to earn strong incomes, especially if you become equity partners in a law firm. Offering a clear pathway for progression, working in private practice also allows you to aid a variety of individuals.
    • Team work: private practice offers the opportunity to conduct your own caseload, with the aid of paralegals, solicitors and occasionally partners.