Kat Gibson relates the pros and cons of working in-house.
I am a four-year PQE solicitor working in house for Coca-Cola Enterprises Limited (CCE), a soft drinks manufacturing, trade and marketing multi-national. I have worked in-house since 2007, having previously been at Nortel Networks; a multi-national telecommunications company. I am an employment specialist, and advise CCE on all labour and privacy law issues across its GB operation.
During my training with a medium-sized regional firm in Southampton I hadn’t considered practising law anywhere other than a private practice environment. This was mainly because I have always wanted to practise employment law and this area is still fairly rare in-house. However, at around two years PQE, I became interested in expanding my knowledge base and getting my hands on more transactional work. This type of work wasn’t available to me in my current role, so I was actively looking to move. I hadn’t considered in-house work at that time, but in looking for a way of gaining responsibility and exposure to more complex work I saw my first in-house position advertised, and it seemed to be a perfect fit.
Now, a few years on, I can safely say that being in-house has given me what I was looking for. I provide strategic advice to my internal clients, getting involved in business decisions and working on matters with issues and legal ramifications - which I simply wouldn’t be doing in private practice. In addition to the complexity and variety of the work, I am now able to advise my clients throughout a particular issue or project, and not just in snapshots. I can get involved in the management of risk for the company, being more proactive and less reactive. Indeed, by working in this way, my advice has become more commercial and pragmatic. I feel that I add value to the company as a strategic business partner, rather than simply being a cost to it.
As an employee of the company, I am eligible for a benefits package which is very competitive - including a company car and private healthcare. The salaries in the sector are not equivalent to the external lawyers who provide the same level of advice of us, but in my team we (generally!) work better hours and have a good work/life balance. One thing I should point out however, which can be a bit of a culture shock when first moving in-house, is that you are no longer the focus of the business. As CCE is in the soft drinks business, not the legal market, we don’t have the high-tech support services, secretaries or legal software you can expect as standard in private practice. This doesn’t impact the standard of advice you can provide, but it does take a little getting used to.
All in all, I find that working in-house suits me and my way of working. I enjoy being involved in the business and working on commercial issues as well as legal ones. The problem solving and risk management aspects are extremely interesting and it’s also possible to diversify your skills. In short, I would recommend it.