Updated: Jul 27
Paralegal at Merck Group
How did you hear about working in-house?
I came across an in-house position whilst talking to a legal director. He told me he was interested in meeting graduates for an internship vacancy at the pharmaceutical company he worked for. I subsequently applied for this position, was later interviewed and secured the role.
"My main reason for working in-house has been the work-life balance that my role offers. Whilst there are occasions where business needs require us to work longer hours, for the most part there is an opportunity to have a real work-life balance."
What sort of work did you get up to during your in-house internship?
During my internship, I was asked to amend supply and distribution agreements and to update their existing templates which had not been updated for some years. The aim of the update to was ensure that all documentation was clear about the company's adherence with the Bribery Act 2010, by stringently prohibited bribery and the acceptance of any gifts which could be considered the same. To this end, I also created an Anti-bribery Policy for the employees and a separate policy for external personnel. On successful completion of these tasks, I was then asked to assist with the company's IP portfolio in their Research and Development office in Chester.
How has your in-house experience differed to private practice?
I thoroughly enjoyed my in-house internship as it allowed me to appreciate the differences between private practice and in-house – I could tell they were worlds apart. In-house had a clear focus on commercial and company law, whereas my experience of private practice had been in a people services, civil liberties firm.
As I was based in the family department, primarily litigation, I was used to a fast passed approach to work and long(er) hours. In my in-house role, I found the work although fast paced, was more detail driven. My in-house work primarily composed of commercial contracts, IP and company secretarial tasks, whereas my experience in private practice involved preparing applications to issue in court, drafting chronologies, witness statements and attending court and initial client interviews. The stark contrast for me was that the in-house work was non-contentious, whereas the private practice work for me was contentious. Though the comparison could be similar to comparing apples and pears, I did feel like my in-house experience allowed me to find a niche where I could do corporate and commercial work, the work I thoroughly enjoyed (and excelled at during university) with the prospect of being paid a bit better than I would for longer hours in private practice.
What did you do after your internship?
After having completed my internship I returned to complete the final year of my sandwich degree, after which I was headhunted by Orange Business Services Limited (based in Slough) to provide maternity cover for their paralegal. Again during this time I was able to complete further commercial and corporate work and grew a better understanding of the different services and business models each company has and how this impacts their legal department. The differences can be huge and the workload/practice areas can be very different in the in-house legal departments depending on the business needs.
What advantages/disadvantages have you noticed working in-house?
I have worked in a variety of different businesses (start-ups and big corporates) and various sectors: telecoms, tech and now a pharmaceutical company. My main reason for working in-house has been the work-life balance that my role offers. Whilst there are occasions where business needs require us to work longer hours, for the most part there is an opportunity to have a real work-life balance. At busy times for the business i.e. year-end, where there are key deadlines, it becomes very important to prioritise your workload and to organise yourself efficiently.
"In my opinion, the main disadvantage of working as an in-house paralegal (and if you wish to train in house) is working towards obtaining a training contract....[w]hen companies can rely on a highly-skilled paralegal to turn out work of a trainee/NQ standard at a reduced cost, they really have no motivation to train you."
In my opinion, the main disadvantage of working as an in-house paralegal (and if you wish to train in-house) is working towards obtaining a training contract. Subject to the company you work for, I have found that there is generally a less hierarchical structure in-house, compared to law firms. I have found this to be the case in both the start-ups where I have worked and also larger corporates. Therefore you may (quite frequently) find yourself working on projects or have requests which are outside your remit. Though this may present great work experience and a nice challenge, it can also mean that you start to complete work akin to that expected of a trainee or newly qualified solicitor ("NQ"), on a paralegal salary. When companies can rely on a highly-skilled paralegal to turn out work of a trainee/NQ standard at a reduced cost, they really have no motivation to train you. This does mean it is quite common for paralegals to jump from company to company if they are looking to train in-house ,or to move to private practice to complete their training contract. In my experience therefore, I have found that the odds can be stacked against you to train, which for some, could mean bleak future prospects.
However, there are advantages to working in-house and for me these include a better working culture, shorter hours, and most importantly the opportunity to work with some of the best corporate/start-up directors. This can allow you to gain crucial skills, which in turn can help you in your future career and hopefully lead you onto qualification.
Would you recommend in-house?
I would recommend working in-house to gain a better understanding of how businesses function. This will help you produce better commercial advice, which is a crucial skill if you are are to continue working in-house and also extremely valuable should you move to private practice.