Advice

Why I chose to do my training contract in-house

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Newly qualified legal counsel Laiana Alleyne explains why City law isn’t the be-all and end-all

Throughout my academic life, my general understanding of the path to becoming a solicitor in the UK has been limited to attending a “good” university and then undertaking a training contract at a “good” City firm. Although I was lucky enough to be raised in a large academic family, those around me seemed to have the same understanding — there was one path to be followed in order to have a successful career in law.

With this in mind, I plunged into the rather brutal world of vacation schemes and training contract applications. One failed vacation scheme, numerous rejection emails and numerous blows to my confidence later, I began to ask myself why I had set out on this journey to begin with. It was this question that I reflected on for considerable time, finally concluding that I was in fact taking this path because it was the only path I could see. I had no real experience in the legal sector and no understanding of what I was hoping to achieve, other than making it onto the SRA website. I realised that for a long time I had been guided by other individuals’ preconceptions of what a successful lawyer looked like and had failed to consider the very real possibility that there were other means to achieve my goal outside this narrow path I was attempting to follow.

To give me some perspective and learn more about the field I intended to develop a career in, I chose to spend several months as a legal temp, doing work ranging from financial service contracts to GDPR and everything else in between. I realised that I thoroughly enjoyed the more commercial aspects of legal work. Understanding the granular detail of a business and applying the law to meet a common aim. I started to consider that in reality a city law firm, or more generally a training contract in private practice, may not align with such interests.

It was through my temp work that I discovered the Robert Walters Group. Joining as a paralegal supporting their recruitment agency division, I gained significant exposure to the functioning of a listed company and the in-house legal team that supports it. At the end of March 2020, as the world spiralled into chaos due to the global pandemic, I began my training contract. Throughout the next two years, I would spend my time training under the pupillage of the numerous experienced lawyers in the global in-house team, soaking up knowledge and gaining valuable experience from some of the best in the field.

Flash forward two years, with my name proudly featuring on the SRA website, I have had time to reflect on the events that have led me here. I can now say without a doubt that I am extremely grateful for the direction that life has taken me and believe I can now impart some knowledge that wasn’t accessible to me when I began on this journey. As I reflect on my time as an in-house trainee, I notice how different my training contract experience has been from my university friends who had secured a private practice training contract and while I recognise that an in-house training contract may not be for everyone, I want to share some of the benefits I have enjoyed.

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One of the benefits of an in-house training contract that I have come to recognise is diversity. Not just gender and/or ethnic diversity (although as a mixed-race female this has also been a noted bonus for me), but diversity of thought and character. While private practice firms, particularly large City firms, tend to recruit in their own likeness, working in a wider corporation allows you to experience people from all walks of life with different approaches and priorities. From front office to HR, finance to technology, you have the opportunity to function as part of a wider team and can take skills from each of these divisions as you develop.

Within my team, we have lawyers who qualified in large City firms as well as those who qualified by different means and in different countries. Some members walked straight into the legal profession after education and those who were in a vast array of industries before they settled in the legal sector. Being able to work closely with so many different characters has truly allowed me to consider approaches and skills that I would not have had exposure to this early in my career in private practice. I have had the opportunity to work with our specialists in areas such as employment, technology and outsourcing as well as business leaders, providing invaluable opportunities to grow my knowledge and skillset. Being able to undertake a pick’n’mix exercise to model myself after so many high achievers in their respective fields has been invaluable.

Another benefit I have experienced is the flexibility that an in-house training contract has to offer. For those who require more structure, this may not be for you. However, for those who love to learn, enjoy project-based work and are happy to steer their own development, an in-house training contract is a comprehensive and entrepreneurial option. I am incredibly thankful that my team have always listened when I have asked to gain experience in a certain area of law or wider practice area. I have been able to get involved in a number of group projects from data strategy to new service delivery lines and corporate set-ups.

Everyone in the team takes the time to foster an environment where junior lawyers can grow, giving them exposure to work that they genuinely take an interest in. While your BAU work needs to get done there is always something else that you can get involved in to up-skill. Not only this, but there is also a much wider scope to take on responsibility and ownership as a junior lawyer in-house. On a number of occasions, I have been able to own a project / workstream. While there are of course senior lawyers supporting the workstreams and outcomes, it gives a key opportunity for junior lawyers to develop project management and case management skills and to gain confidence when interacting with senior stakeholders.

While I would never underestimate the technical skill and discipline that a private practice training contract can impart, the core distinguishing factor between a private practice training contract and in-house training is the level of commerciality that can be gained as a junior lawyer in-house. It is one thing to have to think about the aims of your client as a private practice lawyer. It is a very different thing to immerse oneself in the commercial environment, where every action that you take is to further the commercial standing of your company. The work of an in-house lawyer is not so black and white from a legal perspective. As a partner to the business, the question put to the legal team tends to be “how can we make this work?” rather than “what does the law say?”.

There is a lot more creativity in the role and a chance to really understand the motivations and aims of your client. As part of an in-house team, particularly a team supporting a PLC, you are encouraged to understand concepts that may not on the face of it be seen as “legal” for example financial risk and the priorities of the board. Understanding these concepts and how they affect the day to day running of a company can set a junior lawyer apart in how they process and advise on legal concepts.

The legal sector is changing — clients want diversity of thought and a partner in (hopefully not) crime rather than someone to act as the principle police. I hope that those considering a career in law can use this article as a reminder that there is more than one path into a career in law. If you have the confidence and the drive to steer your training progression and would also like to experience the more commercial aspects of a career in law, an in-house training contract is a path you should consider. What better way to understand the needs of a client than to become part of their lifeblood.

Laiana Alleyne graduated from the University of Nottingham with a degree in law. She qualified as a solicitor in March 2022 and is now legal counsel at Robert Walters Group.

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30 Comments

M. Corrigan

You’ll say anything won’t you? Words don’t mean a thing to you do they?

(25)(6)

Samuel F

I appreciate the need to promote alternative paths into law but:

(a) lawyers in private practice also do their best to focus on commercial solutions and in many cases never have to deal with the hard rules/principles of the law, and

(b) Saying that the Robert Walters Group has some of the best minds in the (legal) industry is really pushing it. Private practice tends to train and retain the best solicitors by virtue of who it hires and how it makes them work, and, when they do go in house, it’s often on secondment or when they want to semi retire and take it easy.

(41)(13)

In-house trainee

Do you think its hard to transfer to private practice after qualifying in-house

(0)(0)

Graham

“It was through my temp work that I discovered the Robert Walters Group” – temping at a recruitment agency will 999 times out of a thousand not lead to a training contract.

(29)(2)

LC

*changed some details for anonymity*

I qualified in house with a mid-sized investment firm. With a lowish 2.1. from a non-russel group uni I definitely didn’t have many other options. Dispite this I wouldn’t change anything due to the following:

– pay is in line with US Firms with no 3am finishes and little weekend work. The work life balance in-house is definitely overstated, however it does exist and most days you are done by 6-7.

– quality of work is better at a junior level. There is no due diligence, doc review, proof reading, admin ext. Private practice lawyers are always on hand to advise but any project or transaction is ultimately managed by you and you are the gatekeeper to the board/managment and often the decision maker.

– no time recording or billing targets.

– it’s more divers in house, even in financial services! Every law firm client event I go to I am shocked but not surprised at how white their lawyers all are. You can dismiss this as “woke” but genuinely its an embarrassment for these firms.

– people are more interesting and fun and a lot less stuffy.

– working in-house at an early stage of your career provides you with a firm commercial grounding in your industry and I don’t care what you say, no amount of e-learning and seminars provided by your law firm can replicate this. Secondments can help, but you need to see a full business cycle, not just 6 months on a specific project.

(29)(21)

Anonymous

Right, so a ‘mid-sized investment firm’ has a similar pay scale to moneylaw US firms does it? I call BS. As if you’d be getting paid the same salary 5yPQE (for example) in house.
Unless you’re lead/sole general counsel at the biggest players, I don’t see this happening.

I’m not shirking the other benefits you’ve listed, they are all valid. But private practice on the whole is far more lucrative.

(32)(6)

In the City

I can confirm that in-house at a fund/IB can easily put you in line with MoneyLaw. Typical in-house base salaries will be somewhere around MC/SC levels, but the magic is the bonus structure. It is not uncommon for “back-office” functions like legal and compliance get 50-70% of salary if the firm hits target. Some of the Japanese banks offer 100% to back-office if target is even slightly beat.

The issue is the number of mid-level roles available in the market. Very rarely become available and there will be a line-up of 100 applications from the MC alone for every vacancy. I sometimes see NQ-2PQE roles but typically at the bigger institutions.

6-7PM finishes are indeed common, but the lawyers I know at funds start work VERY early in the morning, like start checking emails at 7 in the morning on the way into the office. Explains how they can consistently blow up my email inbox at 9AM with requests to turn around by lunch.

(12)(2)

Apostoles

IBs pay f all to its lawyers. Barclays recently offered to pay someone in my team 100,000 to join one of the legal teams within FICC in their investment bank. That someone was a 5PQE senior associate.

Clearly you’re the kind of gullible fresher that thinks that what they heard about FO roles applies to back office

(0)(0)

Anonymous

‘how white their lawyers all are’. So in a majority white country, it’s surprising that a great deal lawyers are white?

I don’t see why it’s so shocking, especially as firms have only really pushed hard on diversity in the past few years and so it will take time to see the efforts actualise.

(22)(23)

pathetic

Dude no one believes this cr*p, sorry. I feel sorry for you that you went to the effort of writing all of this to impress some law student.

(13)(10)

anon

‘Dispite’ all the effort you put into that ‘post’, it’s clearly made up.

Hopefully the fantasy made you feel better about yourself and your decisions.

(10)(11)

Apostoles

A senior in house legal hire at a top tier private credit fund like Cerberus will make about 250,000 base if they’re lucky, which is less than the Cravath scale base salary for US firm seniors. The hire will be taking a pay cut to go in house. Their hours won’t be that sane, either.

If even that kind of in house practitioner is paid less than their private practice counterparts, I doubt that your irrelevant FTSE 250 asset manager in Surrey will exceed US compensation levels.

(You might want to try out Grammarly; it’s free)

(11)(2)

Anonymousse

“While private practice firms, particularly large City firms, tend to recruit in their own likeness.”

Yes, a bunch of highly intelligent and motivated people who are enthused by commercial law will tend to recruit other similar people. And this is a bad thing how?

(20)(20)

LC

First, it cracks me up how triggered talking about pay makes the insucure virgins that read legal cheek.

Second, on pay, base salary is 80k plus bonus (a banking/finance style of 60% on an adverage year) puts me well above 140k+ (on an adverage year). Total compensation = more than an adverage US NQ. As a trainee I actually earned 30-40% more than a US trainee. At parter level, yes pay is more lucrative, but

Third, on diversity, I’m sure they are making strides and it will pay a dividend in 8 years, but they are late to the game. Most other industries started on this long ago and as a result their leadership is far more divers. At a recent client event of 60+ not one lawyer I met was black. Granted almost all were 6+ years PQE, however are you seriously telling me that in 2014 they couldn’t find one good black candidate. And FYI all partners there were white men. Some firms are better than others, but this was by far not a one off.

(7)(28)

JLB credit controller

I think we were all going to let the typos slide until the repetition of ‘adverage’. You will now be escorted out by the internet police

(33)(2)

Doubtful Dobbie

You didn’t reply to the correct post.

Highly doubt any non risk taker at a mid market “investment company” would have a 60% bonus. Especially one working in Legal.

Did you forget US firms pay NQs a bonus, or did they not tell you that at the open day you attended?

(16)(1)

anon

Stop. Please. I can tell by the way you write that you’re not in-house anywhere. It’s all over the place.

(19)(4)

LC

Ohh “non risk takers”.. someone attended a seminar on SMCR. I can tell you our MRT take home north of a million on a good year with a 500% bonus. Even middle/back office in PE or fund managment will take home anywhere between 30 -100% as a bonus.

(0)(17)

Hello again

Okay dude, you work in Compliance at SJP or equivalent and dream about quitting back to Norton Rose or Addleshaws for a pay bump now that your meal deal costs £4. You can count up to a million and you can do some Googling as well. We get it. We’ll done.

(14)(2)

Bf

How this turned from someone’s experience in going into alternative routes into commercial law to comparing pay to private practice is beyond me.

Lawyers love comparing. Be content in your own lane jheeze.

(16)(2)

Lool

Lol love how you’re all acting like getting into a PE fund is easy or something 🤣

Ahh to be young and naive again

(2)(0)

Saviour

There are many PE funds… and not every one of them is a Blackstone.

(It’s funny that you say that actually because I know of several people who went in-house at the likes of Blackstone, Apollo, Carlyle, and none of them had especially shiny achievements.

Most were 2.1 graduates from Durham and UCL who had gotten an MC/SC TC or, in one case, a TC at a US firm with a large London office – think White & Case, Latham.

They qualified into funds or structured finance or corporate – hardly the most oversubscribed teams! – and made the jump a couple of years post-NQ. A couple had done secondments to the funds they joined during their training contract.

My point is: that’s not exactly an arduous or exceptionally distinguished career path.)

(1)(4)

Barry

I have met the author who came across to me as a good person. The piece reads as though it is written both earnestly and from a place of sincere intent to show future lawyers that we aren’t all like the keyboard warriors in this place.

Congratulations on qualifying Laiana!

(16)(2)

lol

the piece reads like an attempt to put down private practice lawyers by relying on caricatures. let’s hope she comes off as a better person irl

(4)(9)

Who actually cares

You all need to get a grip and get on with your lives.

(9)(2)

B.

As someone who trained in-house, I find this comment section quite amusing for exaggerations are made on both sides.

For the vast majority of us in-house trainees, it was always a plan B rather than a first choice. Really, there is no shame in admitting that and having spoken to quite a few in-house trainees, most of us would share this sentiment.
Personally, I was definitely chasing PP training contracts. After graduation and LPC, I found myself an in-house paralegal job but I was still making applications for City law firms. I was moderately successful in that I was reaching assessment centre / interview stage but I failed to convert my vac schemes into TCs (one when I was still at uni, one after LPC). A year into my paralegal skint, the company I worked for offer me a TC and I accepted it, partly because after 2 cycles I was losing hope already. Sometimes I wonder whether I would be successful at some point if I stuck around a bit longer but, well, water under the bridge, eh?

I was lucky that my TC was well organised and that I was seconded for 6 months to a SC law firm. I was even more lucky in that my company reimbursed me the costs of LPC after I qualified with them. And even more so when I then had a pretty easy time moving to another job and then another.

With that being said:
– As much as I enjoyed my in-house TC, it is definitely a different pair of shoes altogether compared to the PP. At its worst, you might be seen as “less” because you did not train at a law firm. That is why secondments are important because this short 6 months stink at SC really remains an important building block on my CV to this date.

– Save for investment banks and maybe FAANG, the pay remains generally behind City legal tycoons. Don’t get me wrong, as someone who came from a single parent household that was often on the line of poverty, I still earn more than my teen self would have imagined be possible. In the grand scale of things, my salary is putting me among the best earners in the UK. Certainly, whenever I come back to my hometown I realise that I might not be earning as much as some of my counterparts in law firms, but I still make a very good living.
However, if you are after big big bucks, then PP is your best bet.

– The hours are generally more than fine. I normally finish my day at 6 / 6:30 and I completely disconnect from work. Holidays are my own, weekends are my own, week nights are also, amazingly, my own too. This of course will not be true for all in-house departments, but we really tend to have it easier than some of our friends in the private practice.

– Finally, if you start your career in-house then you need to realise that it would be extremely hard to move into private practice later on. Not impossible because some people have done it (personally, I know of two such cases) but usually you are stuck with in-house. Good thing if you are fine with this, bad if you hope MC firms will come on knocking your door once you qualify (most of the times they won’t).

What I am getting to is, hardly anybody really fixates on finding in-house training contract. It is often a “what if I don’t find TC at a law firm” thing. However, if you receive a good quality training and accept that your earnings might be behind from your PP peers, then it is a GOOD plan B, albeit still plan B.

I don’t regret committing my career to in-house, I am more than happy to discuss the ins and outs with prospective trainees and I am glad that in-house TCs are getting more popular, but I am also in favour of reality check.

(40)(4)

Relieved to have made it

This is an excellent contribution. I also trained in-house, and I agree with everything in it. I took an in-house training contract because it was the first training contract I was offered.

For my penultimate seat, I managed to get a secondment to a magic circle firm. That wasn’t because the firm was keen to host a parasitic trainee – far from it – but rather, they were one of our panel firms, and with the help of our company’s training team, I managed to put the firm in a position in which they didn’t feel that they could refuse. They were very polite about it, but it was plain that I was only being hosted because my employer was a major client. That’s not a criticism, merely a reflection of commercial realities. There are painfully few training contracts, no one owes anyone anything in life, and so I was happy to create and seize any opportunity. I worked every hour god sent, learnt a huge amount, documented everything for my CV, and in my final week of the secondment I interviewed for an NQ position at a US firm, and was successful. I only had credibility at that interview because of my experience on my secondment to PP. The in-house company at which I trained weren’t offended, as they were making cut backs anyway, and so there wouldn’t have been an NQ role for me there.

I was exceptionally fortunate: I know of many other people who fell by the wayside, including many still stuck in paralegal jobs. As the comment above notes, the main priority must be to secure an actual training contract (or the equivalent in the brave new world of the SQE). After that, if you’re in-house the next greatest priority is to secure a private practice secondment – ideally while you are a trainee, otherwise ASAP after qualification. Generalising, but fairly, law firms simply won’t look at in-house lateral hires without PP experience.

The differences between in-house and PP are vast, and are beyond the scope of this post. In summary though, if you want work/life balance, in-house is better; if you want to focus on salary and career development, choose PP. If you want to have options in the future, do PP at least until 3 PQE, and only then move in-house.

(15)(3)

Anonymous

I also have met this author and she is as genuine as you get. Seriously some of your negative comments are unreal and I really feel sorry for you all. She is a young professional that has worked very hard to be where she is.

Well done Laiana

Super proud of you

(18)(2)

Realist

Yes, well said. Some people are arseh@les and should be ashamed of themselves.

Good article, and thank you for writing it, Laiana.

(8)(1)

Anon.

Thanks Laiana for your wonderful insights! The article is beautifully written and it is admirable (and certainly not always the case in the legal profession) how much you enjoy your job.

(4)(1)

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