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Elizabeth Street
4 May, 2009  

From golden egg to pain in the bottom. Lizzy has it on good authority that changing from private practice to an in-house career isn’t what it’s cracked-up to be

imageA couple of months ago a friend of mine had the extraordinary fortune to land himself a coveted in-house legal job.

Before he started we caught up for a leisurely coffee on a Saturday and he regaled me with tales of five o’clock finishes, brilliant parties at top tier firms and chilled out workplaces. Best of all – no billing!

I couldn’t imagine that such a utopia actually existed in the legal workplace.

Anyway, that was several months ago and I hadn’t heard how he was travelling at the new gig.

I thought he must have disowned me because, in an unforgivable lapse, I wore a pale blue playsuit to his birthday party.

No, that was not the problem, as he explained when we did manage a rendezvous.

Unexpectedly, he wasn’t giving off the glow of short days and nights of uninterrupted sleep.

In fact, he looked absolutely rooted – more so than usual.

It turns out that being in-house isn’t quite the blissful state that the hype-merchants peddle.

The lies told to law students about private practice don’t stop there. There are juicier lies told about the splendid existence of in-house counsel.

He doesn’t finish at five. He’s lucky to escape at 6.30 or 7.00.

He doesn’t have billable hours, but he is working harder than he ever has in his life.

The invitations to law firm soirées are lovely, but he doesn’t have time to actually attend. Anyway, for some reason he finds it unsettling being grovelled to by those who were once colleagues and pals.

There’s the added unpleasant discovery that he no longer has the haven of his own office.

There’s nowhere to hide when his boss is on the prowl or a place to fume after a particularly difficult phone conversation.

He can’t even pretend to work while surfing the web with a studious expression.

Inevitably there’s someone looking over his shoulder and a stack of colleagues at an arm’s length away.

Particularly irksome is the newly discovered requirement to answer the phone.

In private practice if you want to dodge a client you just don’t pick up the receiver.

In-house failing to pick-up the buzzing instrument guarantees the person on the other end of it will be at your desk in minutes, screaming at you in front of the neighbours, who are three feet away.

No privacy, no peace, no quiet.

Then there is the psychological damage the poor lad suffers, which probably will leave permanent scars.

In private practice you are a fee earner. Even as a young fee earner you are regarded by the firm as one of its important golden eggs.

You bring in money. Somewhat like a battery goose, but still you’re considered a vital part of the factory.

In-house you are at best a money saver and at worst a painful barrier to the company’s money-spinning dreams.

You’re a pain in the bottom and usually treated with contempt by those you are paid to help.

I swig down the dregs of a cold piccolo latte and beat a hasty retreat, feeling quite smug.

For a moment life at my old law mill doesn’t feel quite so beastly.



Reader Comments

Posted by: Anonymous
Date: May 6, 2009, 10:30 pm

Right on the money. The workload is heavier and the clients more demanding, but, despite all of this, working in house still beats private practice. Anthony Jucha
Posted by: Anonymous
Date: June 10, 2009, 2:12 am

I was just forwarded this article by a good friend who has been slugging it out in private practice for some time and is no doubt green with envy following my recent shift to an in-house role from the perils of a mid-tier practice and desperately hopeful there is some truth to the abovementioned mythical tale. But Jealously is a curse Lizzy...