Entering the legal profession straight from university can be a daunting process, particularly without prior legal experience as an ethnic minority. There is an increasing pressure on organisations to demonstrate D&I by reference to statistics such as 60% of in-house lawyers are female, and 23% occupy GC roles; or 21% of lawyers in law firms being from a black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) background. In 2018, 18% of solicitors working in house were from BAME background, with the majority (64%) concentrated in private sector organisations. As D&I becomes more important to organisations, applicants from BAME backgrounds should utilise this opportunity to expand their legal experience.
Current Routes to Qualification In-House
There are entry level opportunities available through private practice firms and traditional routes to qualification via Vacation Schemes and Training Contracts (or Period of Recognised Training as referred to by the SRA). Many like myself have had a different route into the law by securing experience through in house opportunities. As it currently stands, the traditional way of qualifying is obtaining a training contract with a law firm, completing a period of recognised training of 18-24 months after finishing the Legal Practice Course. However, with the introduction of the SQE, and the existing method of Equivalent Means through the SRA, there are alternative routes to qualification.
This article will explore the benefits of obtaining in house legal experience and options for progression towards qualification.
Before diving into the positives of an in-house legal role, it is worth mentioning that this refers to positions including Paralegals, Legal Assistants and Contract Administrators operating in a legal department within a business. Supporting the legal team, often made up of legal counsel(s) and General Counsel(s), the responsibilities can be made up of administrative tasks such as filing, bundling, document preparation, due diligence and research to contract review and drafting. In house legal teams assist with business operations and work in the best interests to provide advisory, transactional, where necessary, contentious support to business projects. The role of an in-house legal team has developed to be trusted advisors to the business and its stakeholders.
Benefits and key skills gained while working in house
Direct client exposure: As an aspiring solicitor, the key to delivering high quality legal advice is to ensure you have understood the client’s instructions and are able to provide practical solutions to their matters. By working with the business, individuals are able to showcase a unique skill set by understanding the industry. These skills include commercial awareness, communication, attention to detail and time management. As a transferable skill, being able to appreciate the demands of a business and the market it operates within, lawyers are better placed to provide relevant advice.
Networking: As a Paralegal/Legal Assistant, matters will originate from departments within the business such as Finance, Procurement, HR and IT. One advantage of this role is the opportunity to engage with key stakeholders and senior management within the business, which allows you to build trust and a good working relationship. Projecting value to the business through supporting projects, being responsive and providing concise advice is key to the approach of an in-house legal team. Engagement with stakeholders and internal legal counsel is important to developing a strong network as you progress as an aspiring solicitor, junior legal professional and through your career.
Scope for responsibility: Paralegal/Legal Assistant positions are exposed to varied work in an in-house legal team with a greater scope for responsibility. This is a strong chance to showcase your capability of delivering on important matters to support the business.
The caveat is that there is no guarantee of receiving a training contract or qualifying through an in-house legal role. Therefore, it is worth keeping this in mind when applying for these positions. However, building exposure to legal matters within the business; becoming well versed in business practices and getting involved in a breadth of matters can make you a more valuable asset to the team and in future roles. For all, obtaining this type of experience is a strong learning opportunity to grasp key transferable skills, whether one decides to pursue a legal career in private practice or in house.
Improvements to increasing D&I in-house
As in-house legal teams grow larger and establish a diversity of thought through talent hires, it is expected that there will be less barriers to entry for graduates seeking to obtain work. In the meantime, organisations can implement the following initiatives to further encourage D&I:
- Developing a dedicated D&I framework
- Blind CV/ Unconscious bias recruitment
- Resource or special interest groups can help employees connect with the business
- Reverse mentorship schemes to allow junior members of the business to provide feedback and a way to share skills and experience that can benefit in the future roles.
For more details about in house legal opportunities please see below for the Legal Recruitment agencies who specialise in connecting aspiring solicitors to entry level positions and providing good commercial exposure: