Want to change your career? Options for the senior in-house lawyer

If you are a senior in-house lawyer and want to try something new it is easy to lock yourself into a “Head of Legal or bust” mentality (in the same way that private practice can be fixated on partnership) without looking at the other career options that are on offer. There is a lot more choice than working as a freelance or part-time lawyer.

In-house lawyers tend to be well paid in most organisations, and if remuneration is the most important thing to you, it is worth noting that some of the options listed below (but not all) may initially involve a salary reduction.

Company secretary

This boardroom position would involve you advising the board on regulatory matters and providing support on a wide range of issues. The role can be varied, lead to lots of international opportunities, often comes with a six-figure salary and gives you a level of strategic influence that can be both challenging and exciting. If you are a solicitor or barrister who is a current member of the Bar or the Law Society, and have five years of experience, you can take the fast-track qualification and only need to complete two of the eight modules.

Check out the ICSA website for more information on making the move.

Risk and compliance

In-house lawyers often work in regulatory compliance and you may already be familiar with several regimes, including:

  • Anti-money laundering.
  • Competition.
  • Anti-bribery.

A career in risk and compliance will use your legal knowledge and your practical experience of applying those laws to the fullest extent possible. Regulatory burdens are increasing year-on-year and this will continue to be a growth area for most major corporates. A compliance role will give you responsibility for setting policies and processes, and ensuring that they are followed. This is a far more challenging and less “dry” role than you might imagine. Most regulators now assume that everyone has “a policy” and are instead looking at how it is communicated and how the corporate culture supports compliance.

Risk professionals are also growing in importance. Their job is to identify, review and document the risks faced by the organisation. As a lawyer you will be well-versed in legal risks but this role will require you to look at financial, political and operational risks too. Your analytical skills and attention to detail will be highly valued.

Internal audit

Internal audit often overlaps with risk and compliance but is more investigative. This business function tests policies and processes and provides independent assurance that an organisation’s controls and governance are operating effectively. Like in-house legal, the audit team exists to provide an unbiased and objective view for the organisation, so if this is one of the things you enjoy in your current role, Internal audit would be a good fit for you. Working in Internal audit will give you a knowledge of risk management that goes beyond the law and will allow you to dig deep into the business’s operations in a way that lawyers do not get to experience.

The Chartered Institute of Internal Auditors is the professional body and their website will give you a more detailed understanding of the work involved.

The ABS model

The legal market today looks very different from ten years ago. The wave of expected Alternative Business Structures (ABS) has been more of a steady stream but this is picking up pace and the range of legal jobs is expanding in interesting ways. Consider looking for roles in new and innovative legal services business that will get you thinking and acting in diverse ways. For example:

  • Alpaca in Leeds is an ABS with a vision to deliver projects using a team of lawyers, finance directors, HR directors and other professionals working together to create joined-up solutions.
  • Legal services companies, such as Luminance, work in AI technology.
  • Yuzu deliver in-house outsourcing solutions.

If you have a desire to be an entrepreneur, then why not think about starting your own legal services business?

As with any career change you will want to start by talking to someone already doing the work to find out the real story. Most people are happy to have a coffee and a chat with someone interested in what they do. If you work for a larger organisation, you may be able to secure a secondment to the Company secretary or Internal audit team.

The key take-away is that your skills as a lawyer form a solid foundation for several different careers that will expand your knowledge and provide new and exciting challenges.

Practical Law In-house Becky Annison

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