We recently were in touch with a Magic Circle lawyer who said:
“I am open to hear about all opportunities related to the tech world. Although I am quite happy at [a Magic Circle firm], I am interested in technology and specially in how it is shaping the world.
When I think about my future, I would like to be part of the change, but I am not sure if in a lawyer’s role. I truly believe that the jobs of the future will require flexible skills, and I am not entirely sure that I would like to be a lawyer for the rest of my life”.
This person is not alone. We speak to hundreds of lawyers looking for a change – and like this person, some of them admit that a non-legal role at a tech company would be very attractive.
Some of the vacancies we as in-house tech legal recruiters run searches for, are actually created because the previous job holder has moved from legal into another business function, for example Commercial or HR.
How can you move into a non-legal role, especially if you are currently in private practice?
You can, of course, just apply to roles that are of interest to you – for example in sales or business development (in fast growing tech companies sales teams are paid at a level that is often higher than remuneration even at a top law firm).
However your application may get overlooked by the Talent Acquisition team who will likely be seeking the closest match to the opening i.e. someone with experience in a commercial role.
What is the alternative?
From our perspective, the easiest and most natural route is via joining a technology company’s legal department. As an in-house counsel you will get immediate contact to other functions – sales, HR, marketing, finance, product or developers.
With the right attitude, it won’t take long to establish yourself as a trusted advisor to your colleagues. This will give you precious insight into how a technology company operates, what qualities are of value and where you could make the best use of your talents and passions.
You will also have access to all vacancies that the business has (e.g. an 80,000 employee business will have a 1000 roles open at any given time). Sure, some of them will be specialist, but quite a few will not require specialist training, for example in commercial, sales, business development or account management.
As a lawyer, especially if you’ve worked in private practice, you have qualities that are desirable for many commercial teams: high IQ, strong work ethic, attention to detail, ability to work well under pressure (which unlikely will be at the level you are used to anyway), keeping a cool head in crisis situations, an ability to build relationships and establish trust – as well as business development experience and public speaking skills.
As an internal employee, it is much easier to demonstrate all of this to non-legal hiring managers and HR decision makers – and move into the role of your choice.
This is a comment received from a Regional Legal Director of a global technology company in response to this post.
“I wanted to reply to you regarding the shift from legal to commercial roles. I made that transition myself during my time at [a global manufacturing company with 70 000 employees] where I went from Legal Director to Global Head of Sales, Bids and Business Development in a new business unit.
As the unit was new, they wanted someone who knew the company well, had shown a sound commercial understanding of the business as well as governance and who had a lot of energy as it was almost like a start-up only in an existing company. And so they picked me who had been part of the high potential program and who also needed to ”climb” in order to stay in the company.”
I guess it shows that this strategy works, particularly because it is so costly for corporations to lose (and replace) valuable talent who know the business well.