In many ways, the private practice lawyer and the in-house lawyer inhabit very different worlds. Your legal skills alone will not necessarily be sufficient to guarantee you a move from the former to the latter. However, by leveraging your skills, experience and management expertise, you can make your CV relevant to the in-house role.
Remember your legal experience is relevant - but it is your non legal experience that will make you stand out!
Structuring your CV for an in-house roleIf you’re a private practice lawyer looking to make the move to an in-house role, you’ll probably need to tweak your CV to make it fully relevant.
This is because the contribution you’ll be expected to make in a non-private practice organisation is quite different to what you’ll be used to.
Of course, at its core, the in-house role is about providing expert, current legal advice to an internal client. However, you’ll also need to demonstrate a good understanding of the sector you’re going into, the ability to grasp – and contribute to – commercial business strategy, the communication skills to get your message across effectively to an, often disinterested audience, and the leadership skills required to build teams and influence senior colleagues.
So, we suggest that, while following a recognised structure for your CV, you set out your skills and experience in two parts: your legal background and your managerial and wider business skills.
Part 1: Set out your legal experienceIn this first section, link your legal skills and experience to everything you can find out about your prospective employer’s needs. Specifically:
- Show you’ve already (partly) done the job. Bring to the fore any secondments or virtual secondments you’ve been on and describe any involvement in lifecycle management of documents, templates, policies and other similar resources. Set out exactly what you did (not just "involved in ..." bur "did [a], [b] and [c] in..."), when you did it and how complex it was. That way, you’ll demonstrate that you’ve already had experience of relevant areas of law in an in-house environment and that you know what you’re getting into;
- Match your experience and knowledge to the job description. Emphasise the areas of your experience that the employer is looking for. This could, for example, include employment law, M&A or procurement contracts. Break each element of this section down in detail and focus of any key, novel or complex features. For example, you may have developed specialist expertise in the multi-jurisdictional use of a software as a service (SAAS) platform.
Next, break this section down further by showing where applicable, you:
- Provided advice for a business to act on;
- Provided or conducted training;
- Drafted a precedent;
- Negotiated a contract;
- Created or evolved a playbook in conjunction with a client;
- Supported lifecycle contract management;
- Managed a non-hostile termination;
- Conducted internal investigations;
- Were involved in alternative dispute resolution;
- Handled hostile and/or proactive engagement with regulators; and
- Dealt with litigation.
List all the jurisdictions you’ve worked in. Include all client and customer locations as these will have had a bearing on your overall understanding of multiple jurisdictions; and
List the sectors that your clients have been in. Regulatory frameworks vary enormously between market sectors. So too do corporate structures, with some organisations placing the emphasis on sales and marketing, while others are more concerned with compliance. A good mix of clients helps to build a picture of your broad – therefore valuable – experience of the range of legal issues you’ll be faced with in an in-house role.
Part 2: Sell yourself as a manager with wider business skillsHaving demonstrated your suitability as a lawyer, your next challenge is to show that you’ll be a credible member of the employer’s senior management team.
To achieve this, use the next section of your CV to set out:
- Your experiences and learnings as a people hirer, manager, developer and, if necessary, exiter. For example, if you grew and developed a team, say by how many people and over what period of time;
- What your team development strategy and budget were, how you managed these and how the experience contributed to your expertise as restructuring/change leader;
- How you developed and managed tools, processes and resources in your current and previous management roles;
- Any in-house or secondment experience you’ve had in commissioning and managing external law firms. This will show that you can "game keep" as well as "poach";
- Your experience in working with, presenting to and being part of a business senior management team, both in your private practice and as part of any secondment;
- Your experience of defining, operating and working within business processes such as forecasting, budget management, people development cycles, audits, board and management meetings and corporate governance;
- Your knowledge and experience in building and running/"project managing" complex, high value, high duration, multi-party projects – such as litigation!
- Any relevant experience you’ve had in dealing with different business models, such as listed companies, LLPs, private equity, national v international, foreign HQs v UK HQs and AFS regulated v unregulated. Use this to show that you understand how different structures affect legal and business decision-making approaches;
- Any experience that you have had of running/helping to run wider or cross departmental business groups/committees or activities - whether it be the diversity group, the risk committee or the pension trusteeship - it all helps to show that you have wider business and people insight and experience; and
- Any knowledge and experience you’ve gained around business and legal risk appetite, determination and management.
In-house legal roles across the private, public and third sectors are quite different to those in a private legal practice. As well as a proven legal background, you’ll need to demonstrate wider capabilities relevant to organisational strategy, growth, people management and team development. Show you understand this by structuring your CV in a way that projects your grasp of the legal issues relevant to a potential employer while showing that you’ll also be an effective member of a senior management team.