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Private Practice Vs In-House

Does coming from a magic circle/US firm make a difference in getting a role in-house? Our in-house recruitment expert, Aleisha Murray, speaks with Knowse, a leading legal in-house network foundation, to discuss how a background in a magic circle/US firm can impact your move in-house

"To kick us off, I’d say there’s a general perception in the market that being trained and retained in a magic circle/US firm will make you more employable in-house. This sentiment is fairly accurate for the Financial Services sector and many of the searches we are asked to undertake in Financial Services are steered toward candidates from magic circle/US firms.

Quite often, a request for ‘magic circle only’ will come from a hiring manager who also trained in a magic circle firm and consequently want a ‘like-for-like’ candidate and to guarantee that the same, high quality of training and development has been undertaken. It’s also a bi-product of Financial Services specialisms (banking, derivatives, leveraged finance, etc.) – this is often the big ticket work undertaken by magic circle and US firms for their top blue-chip and investment bank clients and therefore the candidates with the most relevant experience are believed to hail from those firms.

I mostly recruit across commerce and industry (tech, FMCG and sport to name a few) and therefore work on many more commercial contracts based in-house roles than my colleagues in Financial Services. For commercial contracts roles, it’s more unusual to see candidates move in-house from magic circle or top US firms. The reason for this is twofold: 1) salary discrepancies between in-house and these firms, and 2) magic circle and US firms not being considered the best breeding ground for this type of work. The first is widely known – candidates in top US firms and magic circle will likely be looking at a significant salary drop when they make a move in-house into the likes of retail, media or FMCG. I won’t labour on this point, except to say that some candidates are conscious of this early on in their practice careers and proactively use the salaries in top firms as a way to ensure savings ahead of a future in-house move.

In addressing the second point, it’s essential to note that magic circle/US firms are known to offer very high quality, transactional work (with Associates working on some of the largest international deals). This equates to robust technical legal training, however it’s often the case that there’s limited client interaction and exposure at the junior level in these firms. In my experience, these firms are also less likely to be in a position to offer commercial secondment opportunities to junior lawyers, which are a huge draw card for prospective in-house employers (particularly as employers like the assurance that a candidate knows what to expect in an in-house environment so that they won’t lose them back to practice a few months after starting).

To exemplify this point, I was recently asked by a client (a top RE developer) to recruit a Legal Counsel with a commercial property background. She specifically requested that I focus my search away from the magic circle and top US firms. She felt (having had experience in both herself) that the best transferable experience for her in-house team would come from candidates who had more breadth (in terms of a varied workload) and solid client and stakeholder exposure/ interaction.

As my final point, I would also like to stress that ‘team fit’ is increasingly important to in-house clients in commerce and industry. I am working on a brief at the moment for a Legal Counsel in the entertainment sector, and I have been asked to focus my search on two things: is this candidate a good team fit for us?; and, does this candidate have the capacity to learn quickly? Once those boxes are ticked, the hiring manager is willing to train and develop one’s technical skill set".

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