Moving in-house is no longer career suicide

Moving in-house is no longer career suicide


WILL committee members

Law doesn't have to be linear

We recently hosted a panel event in collaboration with Women in Law London (WILL) at LexisNexis House, to examine some of the alternatives to a linear career. The panel comprised of some enterprising and successful lawyers who’ve chosen a different path and forged the way for a new generation of lawyers to re-consider their career options. Sophie Gould from LexisNexis was invited to join the panel debate on why law doesn’t have to be linear.

The assumption that a lawyer would enter private practice and march forward towards partnership with the same firm in linear fashion is thankfully becoming fast outdated. Just as the legal profession is considering a variety of different and cost effective ways to deliver a client centric legal service, there are now a myriad of options for a successful legal career.

"Moving in-house is no longer career suicide”: Sophie Gould, Solicitor and Head of Legal In-house for LexisNexis

Sophie started her career in private practice before moving in-house in a media company at 2 years PQE, frustrated by the culture of success being measured by “how many hours spent sitting at your desk rather than the impact you’re making” that she found when in private practice. Despite the clear implications from her peers and mentors that working in-house was only for second rate lawyers, Sophie found that the smaller environment, seeing projects through from end to end for only one client and having more responsibility early on suited her, and also allowed her to gain business experience.

In a further career move, she then moved to LexisNexis as Head of Legal for the In-house segment, 6 years ago from a Head of Legal position at Ginger Media Group.

Her advice is that lawyers should not be afraid to move in and out of the law; to try different things and even if the roles advertised are not perfect roles for you, pitch what skills you have and what you want.

"Managing positions in law can be just as fulfilling as practising law": Fiona Fitzgerald, CEO of Radcliffe Chambers

Fiona read a degree in business and French before qualifying as a solicitor in Manchester and then moving to a London firm. Originally following a more traditional linear path, becoming a partner at 29 she moved into a management role rather than a practising one, where she remained for another 15 years.

Fiona gained experience as chair of the Women Solicitors, sitting on boards, in management, mentoring and training for business skills. After spending time looking for external finance for investment for the firm, effectively taking on a COO role, she realized she didn’t want to get tied in and that a CEO position in another firm would be her ideal next step. She is now Chief Executive of a barristers chambers and enjoying working at the expertise end of legal profession as well as her position on the Legal Practice Managers Association committee.

Fiona’s advice is to take advantage of mentoring, take every opportunity to learn, to endeavor to always function at level above your current one, to keep an eye on future of legal services and to love what you do.

“A career in the judiciary is the right step and it is not all about the High Court bench”: Chris Simmonds, District Judge

Chris started his career as a high street solicitor, running his own firm, specializing in family and in particular care proceedings. After a stint at a London firm which he did not enjoy, he was appointed as a District Judge of the Principal Registry of the Family Division, despite his then lack of judicial experience. He is now Director of Judicial Training.

A passionate advocate of a judicial career as the next step once one has the required 7 years PQE, Chris was keen to emphasise that there are plenty of opportunities for solicitors in the judiciary, and that there are excellent career prospects at the lower levels and it is not all about the High Court bench. There are many upsides to moving away from private practice, not least the better hours, reasonable pay, wonderful colleagues and training opportunities. The downside of course is that as a judge, the buck stops with you and it can be very hard to make the decisions.

His judicial career advice was extensive, including the reassurance that it is unlikely a candidate is appointed the first time, but that one should keep trying. Just as no-one thinks someone who passed their driving test on the second or third attempt is a bad driver, an appointment on the second or third attempt does not reflect on one’s judicial ability. Additional advice for applying to the District Bench included:

  • Application forms are roughly the same – download others and practice.
  • You do not have to be a Judge in what you practiced, so don’t be put off applying if you currently practice in a more transactional area of law.
  • No-one knows how to be a judge. Judge craft is what is important – get taught, get mentored and learn the skill and then know how to run a trial.

Above all, his top career tip was to not be afraid to leave something which makes you unhappy and it is possible to make career mistakes. Try things!

“A career is just a series of jobs”: Dana Denis-Smith, Founder and CEO of Obelisk Support

Dana started her career as a news agency journalist before a degree in history and political economy and working as a financial journalist for the Economist. After re-training as a lawyer, and working at a magic circle firm as an Employment lawyer, she realized her constant questioning of authority did not lend itself to private practice and so she set up her first business which was consulting in political risk and compliance.

She founded Obelisk Support as a way to continue working within the law but with a different proposition: cost efficient resources from local market, utilizing talent which was leaving the profession, instead of outsourcing work to abroad. Whilst firms initially wrote her off as the mum with a load of mums at home working for her, she was not deterred, continued pitching for work and won Goldman Sachs as her first client.

Obelisk Support is now listed as one of the top 50 employers for women and Dana has gone on to utilize her entrepreneur and journalism talents by founding and running the First 100 Years project, a ground breaking project celebrating women in law.

Her career tip is simple – there is no definition of a successful career; it is just a series of jobs. Utilize the skills you have to take opportunities that present themselves, and don’t take no for an answer.

To complement this post please enjoy free content from LexisNexis PSL; a personal development checklist.


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