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Leanne Wood, a trainee at CSR plc, looks back at her decision to take an in-house training contract, and why she’d recommend it as a route to practice
I became interested in training in-house during the second year of my law degree, after attending an alternative careers seminar at university. Working for one business which you start to thoroughly understand, whilst undertaking a wide range of interesting work, were the aspects of working in-house that appealed most to me. I was also drawn to the idea of being more involved on the commercial side of things so that I’d have the opportunity to develop business skills rather than just legal expertise. Now, six months into my training contract, I am pleased to report that the reality of training in-house has met my expectations in all respects.
I began my training contract in September 2014 in the legal department of Cambridge semi-conductor company CSR plc, where I immediately started working on a very significant transaction that was publicly announced in October: the intended $2.5 billion public takeover of our group of companies, expected to complete late summer 2015. Other than assisting on a small, private acquisition as a paralegal with CSR, this was my first real merger and acquisitions experience, and it involved familiarising myself with the Takeover Code, learning aspects of competition law and, most importantly, finding my way around a data room! Having the opportunity to work on such a large transaction during my first few months as a trainee solicitor was invaluable experience which I’ve no doubt will assist me throughout my legal career. I’ve also been lucky enough to travel to the US twice - and travelling abroad is certainly not unusual for in-house counsel.
The reality of training in-house has met my expectations in all respects.
As CSR does not practise contentious work in its UK legal department, I’m currently on secondment in the litigation department of the London office of a large US law firm in order to satisfy the SRA skills requirements. This placement has been incredibly interesting and I have gained fantastic experience in both litigation and arbitration. I have thoroughly enjoyed contentious work and witnessing the contrast of working for a law firm with multiple clients.
In terms of my future career, I am keen to qualify and continue working in-house, hopefully gaining particular expertise in intellectual property law. Once I am qualified in the UK, I am planning to dual qualify in the US. Knowledge of US law is very advantageous, both in-house generally and specifically in the technology sector.
In spite of all the advantages of training in-house, it would be disingenuous to pretend there are no limitations in this route to qualification. Law firms often offer their trainees courses and seminars on useful non-legal skills, such as communication and maximising networking opportunities. Such training is unlikely to be offered to a trainee solicitor in-house unless it’s a business-wide initiative.
On the flip side, I have benefited from a wide range of opportunities, including specialist IT training and career development workshops, which would not be available at a law firm. However, it’s important for companies to focus on providing their legal department with the means and opportunities for keeping up to date with industry news and its legal implications. This is particularly useful as an in-house lawyer is more likely to deal with a wider breadth of law than a solicitor in a law firm who will be more specialised. It’s also critical that the company encourages its legal counsel to become integrated into the business in order to better understand the operations of other departments and be involved in high-level decision-making at earlier stages of projects and transactions.
I think there are many misconceptions about training in-house which may deter potential candidates
I think there are many misconceptions about training in-house which may deter potential candidates. One is the perceived lack of variety of the areas of law covered by in-house legal departments. This could easily be addressed by providing a job description which lists the areas of law practised by the team, as there’s likely to be more on offer than a potential candidate might think. Additionally, if it’s likely that the trainee will be seconded to a law firm or another in-house team, arranging this in advance and making these arrangements clear is likely to ease any concerns the potential trainee may have about not getting the typical structured ‘seat’ experience offered in a law firm. Providing this level of detail would also reassure them that the department takes its training responsibilities seriously and has the infrastructure in place to ensure the SRA training requirements are met.
I would, without question, advise anyone considering training as a solicitor to research working in-house. A large part of my learning comes from working in a small legal department alongside hugely experienced lawyers, picking things up as I go along. Many companies and authorities have great resources and under-take a wide range of legal work, which makes for a fascinating training experience, especially if you have the flexibility to break away from the traditional four/six seat training approach. Some think that training in-house can be limiting but I would argue the contrary: in my opinion, the opportunities really are endless.