Does private practice really deserve the disdain it gets?

Bernardo Pina 20.04.2017

For a number of lawyers, working in-house is a main career ambition. Private practice is getting a fraction of the attention and demand. Why is that?

True, practising in law firms may not always be as attractive as television and movies would make us believe. There will be less late night cigars and whisky sessions and more late nights in front of the computer craving your bed. You won’t be in court the whole time, throwing jaw-dropping speeches around and winning every case; you will instead be worried whether you actually have the support of the law and making sure you follow all procedural rules.You won’t always be working on ground-breaking stories that will make tomorrow’s news; sometimes you will just be researching the EU regulations on labelling of cosmetics.

You might be thinking I am not one to talk, I started in practice and later made a move in-house. This goes to my point though: as an argumentative (euphemism for “annoying”) teenager I may have been drawn to law and private practice by some of those misconceptions and clichés. Or perhaps I was not entirely sure of where my skills could be better put to use and my reasons to go in-house were just part of my trial-and-error process. Maybe that’s you too. And that’s fine, no judgment here!

There are pros and cons to each path and they have already been heavily dissected in several articles, all I am saying is that private practice does not deserve all the disdain it gets. 

For those who actually love the profession for what it is, a career in a law practice can definitely be more rewarding than in another type of company. Let’s face it, when it really comes down to it, the main reason for wanting to run away from law firms are the working hours. I am not insensitive to the cries for a better work-life balance in private practice but we must also recognise that law firms generally offer a wider range of matters to work on and allow experience to be gained with multiple clients across different sectors, with all their varied standards, processes and expectations. It’s not so unreasonable to expect a certain trade-off of slightly longer hours. Also, it is an absolute myth that all in-house roles don’t involve long working hours.

You should also keep in mind that your experience will be fundamentally different depending on the practice and even the team you are in. A top five law firm will expect some sacrifice of your personal time in exchange for a top level experience – if you are looking for those news-worthy cases this is the place to be. Too intense for you? Then what about other top tier firms, which also provide very enrichening exposure but where you can expect to be home in time to watch the Champions League.

Prefer something smaller? Have you considered some of the boutique firms out there, highly specialised and many of them with large clients, offering very competitive packages while maintaining the benefits of smaller environments, including the working hours.

If you would like to discuss your plans please feel free to get in touch with me.

Bernardo Pina's picture
Consultant | Legal Recruitment