Training Contracts: In-House vs. Private Practice
Many aspiring lawyers choose to qualify by completing their training contract at a law firm.
Whilst training as a lawyer at a private practice is certainly the more popular option, with a growing rise in demand for in-house lawyers, there are more opportunities to train in-house.
For prospective solicitors, deciding on a training contract is an important step in the route to qualification – every training contract is unique, varying in everything from practice area to client base and salary.
If you’re considering applying for an in-house training contract, it’s important to be aware of the facts – the positives, the negatives and everything in between.
In this career guide, we give an overview of the differences between in-house and private practice training, as well as the pros and cons of each.
In-house training contracts are offered by commercial organisations, government legal departments and other corporates with large legal departments.
In contrast to a law firm in which you interact with a number of different clients, training in-house means that you only have one client: your employer. You will be advising the organisation on various legal matters that are likely to cover multiple areas of law, such as commercial transactions, employment issues and property law. This means that training in-house can offer more variety than training in a specialist firm. The areas of law you will be exposed to will depend on the type of organisation, the industry it operates in as well as the work it undertakes.
As well as the opportunity to work on a range of legal matters, you will also gain an in-depth understanding of the organisation you work for, greatly enhancing your commercial awareness. An in-house trainee will be directly exposed to the effects of legal matters on business strategies, unlike a firm where the immediate effects of legal decisions are not always apparent.
In-house organisations tend to offer a better work-life balance – the hours are generally more sociable in contrast to the tediously long hours of City firms. However, this doesn’t mean that you will be exempt from putting in a longer shift when your team is faced with a particularly important matter or deadline.
There are also benefits of an in-house environment when it comes to the training process itself. Many businesses allow trainees to complete the LPC on a part time basis, unlike some private practices which require the LPC to be completed before the training contract begins.
Studying the LPC whilst gaining real life work experience benefits trainees, who can apply academic learnings in a practical setting while gaining support and valuable legal knowledge from their colleagues. There is also the chance that the company may fund the LPC, however this varies depending on the employer.
However, despite all these benefits associated with an in-house training contract, there are still significantly less training contract opportunities than in private practice. Even though a lot of organisations have the capacity to train in-house lawyers, some companies only recruit for trainees when they have a real need for them. Only a small percentage of all training contracts offered each year are in-house. As a result, they are more difficult to secure.
In-house training opportunities vary year on year, but some organisations are fairly consistent. Several major corporations such as the BBC, Tesco and Mercedes-Benz offer in-house training.
Other schemes include The Government Legal Training Service Training Contract offer the opportunity to train in key government departments such as the Government Legal Department (GLD), HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) or the National Crime Agency (NCA).
Similarly, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) Legal Training Scheme offers prospective legal professionals the opportunity to gain an in-house perspective in the field of criminal law.
In-house training contracts are more competitive, but if you are prepared to put in the extra graft, then you could be well in with a shot at securing a scheme with a big corporation.
Private Practice Training
Now onto the alternative - training in a law firm. Many of the beneficial elements of training in-house can also potentially be seen as hinderances.
Whilst an in-house training contract might be more varied, firms offer trainee lawyers the opportunity to specialise in certain areas. If you’re someone who wants to become an expert in a particularly niche sector, then a law firm training contract may be for you.
Law firms typically offer trainee solicitors 4-6 seats in different areas, which is plenty of variety for some. There is certainly more variation when it comes to clients too – in-house counsel only tend to work for their own organisation.
Many private practices actually offer the option for trainees to do a client secondment within an in-house department, which is ideal if you want a flavour for life in-house without committing entirely. Usually, this placement will last around 3-6 months.
Salary is commonly higher for private practice trainee lawyers, however you must be prepared to work longer hours. Firms prioritise their clients, so your personal and social life is expected to come second.
Which training contract is right for you?
At the end of the day, both in-house departments and law firms have a range of positives and negatives, but there is no right or wrong to which is the better option. You are not at a loss if you train in-house, nor is your commercial awareness hindered by a law firm.
It is up to you to weigh up the pros and cons to decide which training contract is right for you. Below is a summary of the highlights and lowlights of both:
- One ‘client,’ allowing you to really get to know the business / understand its needs
- Opportunity to gain more commercial insight – exposure to how legal issues directly affect business strategy
- Generally better hours and work/life balance
- Greater possibility of completing the LPC alongside training
- Less opportunity to specialise or work with multiple clients
- Often a lower salary than private practice
- In-house training contracts are less common yet more competitive
- Offer the opportunity to specialise in practice areas
- Exposure to a much more varied client base
- Generally better paid than in-house contracts
- Typically longer hours
- Less variety with regards to the legal work on offer
- Less flexibility regarding completing the LPC alongside training
Need more careers advice? Check out some of our other articles in the Law Graduates section of our blog.