Having recruited into financial markets for the past 11 years, I find the legal space unique at times. In an age where school and university leavers have less and less grasp of what they want to do with their lives long-term, many in the legal profession have always been committed to pursuing this particular career path. It is often something they have been working towards for years. There are some exceptions to the rule, and with alternative ways to get qualified (SQE), we do see different routes to work in the funds legal space, practice or in-house.
Regardless of your pathway in, the work comes thick and fast in a highly competitive environment. It can be difficult to come up for air, let alone trying to steer yourself in the right career direction. With this in mind, I reached out to three General Counsel from my network, each at respected private markets funds. This was to see, with hindsight, what advice they would give to their younger self and what challenges they had when moving from practice to in-house roles. Interesting points were raised from each, and invaluable words for trainees and experienced legal professionals alike.
What advice would you give your early 20s self about to embark on a career in law?
“Firstly, try to take ownership and become a subject matter expert as soon as possible. This will make you indispensable to the senior management, whatever financial services business line you operate in.
The second key point being that relationships are crucial. You’d be surprised how many people appear in later life and career, that I had touch points with during my training contract. These contacts can be precious for a multitude of reasons whether its information gathering, friendships, network building, etc.” - Head of Legal, Private Debt Fund
“Do it. Good legal training can take you in many different directions, whether you stay in a law firm, move in-house or do something completely different, the skills you will learn as a lawyer will stand you in good stead and open many doors.” - Peter Roughton, General Counsel, Private Equity Fund
“Keep your coverage as broad as possible and try not to specialise too soon. Breadth of coverage will make you an excellent commodity, particularly if you decide to go in-house.” - Tom Hodge, General Counsel, Private Equity Fund
What’s a typical challenge/obstacle that someone moving from practice to an in-house role with a private markets fund is likely to encounter?
“Before making the move in-house, the obvious one to me was the legal infrastructure or lack thereof, which would be a tremendous shift from practice. Even more so, if I went to a particularly small fund, this turned out to be the case, but you quickly learn to be more economical with resources.
Once I landed in a fund, I had to challenge myself to be more visible. It’s a change from practice where someone could quite easily hide behind emails and the sheer volume of the place (not that I ever did). Being in-house is about engaging with all stakeholders and being present on the floor for adhoc requests.” - Head of Legal, Private Debt Fund
"At a junior level, I think it is being thrown in at the deep end where you are viewed as a “lawyer” and not as a “2/3/4 PQE” lawyer which is very much the case in private practice, and you tend to get given work that matches your experience. Once you are in-house, you have to be comfortable dealing with problems that are outside your experience and comfort zone but realising that everything is solvable, and if you don’t have all of the answers, then you just have to work out who to ask! - Peter Roughton, General Counsel, Private Equity Fund
The most significant change of circumstance is not having the power of a private practice workforce behind you. You need to take responsibility for giving sound legal advice on the spot or being able to get back to a stakeholder with the right answer quickly. It’s also important that you are commercially minded with your responses and ensure that you are giving advice in the best interests of the business. This can take some more time to adapt to than others. - Tom Hodge, General Counsel, Private Equity Fund
If you are interested in speaking further on these topics or you would like to have a confidential chat about your next career move or business objectives, please do not hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org