Blog Post

How to Navigate Your In-House Legal Career Path

February 5, 2024

When you build a house, you begin at the bottom, the foundation, and build upward. Even though you don’t work on the roof at the same time you’re constructing the foundation, you still have blueprints telling you how the roof fits. That way, you can build a base matching your final construction goal.

Your career path works similarly. When you began in the legal industry, you probably didn’t expect to stay in that same entry-level job.

Over time, you expect to grow in your career.

In-house legal career paths offer unique growth opportunities. However, it requires some planning and a blueprint so you know just how to build a foundation today for the future you’re moving toward over the next few years.

Explore how to build that foundation, setting you up for career success.

Key Takeaways:

  • In-house legal career paths open new opportunities for lateral and vertical growth.
  • Keep your skills sharp through professional development so you’re ready for growth.
  • Adopting new technology allows you to do more and move farther in your career.

Legal jobs are growing faster than the average job. The projected lawyer employment rate is expected to grow 8% by 2032.

What makes an in-house legal career path different from other legal career paths?

In-house legal careers offer more movement opportunities. When you work in an in-house legal department, you don’t just work within the legal industry. You also work with businesses that you have an opportunity to learn about and grow with.

In-house legal roles expand your growth opportunities vertically and laterally:

  • Vertical Career Growth: Vertical career growth promotes you up the ladder. For example, you move from legal manager to legal director to the chief legal officer.
  • Lateral Career Growth: Lateral career growth is horizontal movement or movement across the business on the same level but in a new department. For example, you might love closing contracts but feel stressed with other areas of the legal department. To focus on what you love, you move laterally from closing legal contracts to closing sales contracts in the sales department.

Just know that your legal career path is a living plan. Therefore, it will change as you, your goals, and your skills change. Just ensure you always have a goal to keep improving in your career and not grow stagnant.

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7 Ways to Succeed in Your In-House Legal Career Path

Use these seven tips to help you succeed in your legal career path, no matter where you want to end up.

1. Build a Strong Foundation

The first part of building a house is the foundation. It’s not glorious and usually looks nothing like the end product. But it’s one of the most essential parts of building a house. How you start dictates the rest of your project.

Start your legal career strong, and you can quickly move in your desired trajectory. When you start strong in an effective legal team, you have the support and structure in place to grow.

For example, begin with solid core skills like legal research, writing, and contract drafting. Then, develop a solid understanding of business operations and regulations.

A working knowledge of technology is also crucial, even if your current role interacts very little with technology. Knowing technology gives you a leg up as the company grows and incorporates more tech. It also helps you stand out when you’re ready to move up in the department.

Even the certifications you have matter. If you don’t have the experience yet for your career goal, you can still begin building a foundation of education and certifications to move in that direction in the future.

2. Network Within Your Organization

If you don’t plan to stay where you are, branch out of your team or role to get to know other teams, supervisors, and departments.

Networking within the legal department and the entire in-house team opens doors to career movement.

Build relationships with colleagues across the business and establish yourself as a trusted internal advisor.

3. Continually Learn

Talent development takes advantage of opportunities your company provides so you can develop new hard and soft skills. It also helps you stay relevant.

As new technology or department changes occur, you must remain agile and change with the department and company. By learning new skills and staying on top of change, you ensure you’re always a valuable part of the team, and your role never becomes obsolete.

Also, take it upon yourself to learn new technology and trends your team hasn’t incorporated yet. For example, AI is growing in popularity among legal teams. Learning how to use legal AI will open career doors when your team adopts that technology and needs someone familiar with the new tech.

4. Take on Additional Responsibilities

You may be familiar with the age-old saying, “Show, don’t tell.”

Showcase your talents and knowledge by taking on additional responsibilities. These projects show your abilities outside your current role, proving you’re ready to take on more responsibility or a higher role.

Choose projects that are most likely to shine the best light on your talent but won’t overwhelm you or take advantage of your time.

5. Explore New Possibilities

You may have a career path planned out when you begin on your current legal team. However, over time, you may have changed your mind.

Keep your mind open to new possibilities. For example, feel free to test out other areas or departments. You may even want to consider a department outside the in-house legal team but still in your business.

When new opportunities or positions open, take time to consider how they might help you or whether they might offer you a new yet more strategic career path.

6. Stay on Top of Burnout

Job satisfaction can run out over time. Being overworked and burnt out speeds up the rate of dissatisfaction.

Some of the top reasons people are dissatisfied in the workplace include:

  • Minimal promotional opportunities
  • Low pay and benefits
  • No training or professional development
  • No feedback
  • Challenging daily tasks

When you hit that point of burnout, it suddenly stops your career path. It might even make you think you want a completely different career path.

Instead of changing your career path due to burnout, catch any growing job dissatisfaction early and find a solution. The solution might mean a lateral change to a slightly different role in the in-house legal department for new promotional opportunities, pay, and benefits. It might also be a working style change.

Adopting new legal technology or outsourcing some of your tasks can relieve your workload so you can focus more time and energy on what you love, avoiding burnout and bringing joy back to your job.

Job Satisfaction
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7. Be Ready for New Opportunities

Keep your resume sharp and monitor company movements constantly to be ready for new opportunities.

Apply early when new opportunities come up. You can even ask HR about positions you see opening so you can apply before they post the job listing.

For example, if someone is near retirement, start talking with leadership about training for the role or receiving mentoring from the retiree while they’re still around.

Promoting a current employee is more cost-efficient than hiring a new one, so present yourself for the role. Include how it saves money for them and improves talent retention.

Exigent helps you prepare for legal career growth. Our technology lets you stay on top of your tasks, improve productivity, and open doors to new opportunities. You’ll feel less burnt out and more satisfied with your role.

We also offer extensive training in legal technology, so you remain a top legal asset thanks to your understanding of modern technology practices.

Contact us to learn more about building a legal career and how our services and technology will aid in your career growth.

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About the Author:

Exigent is an Alternative Legal Services Provider (ALSP) breaking industry boundaries and raising the bar for data-driven decision-making. With a powerful combination of technology, legal expertise, and business acumen, Exigent creates expert solutions that drive better legal and business outcomes for law firms and corporations.

Exigent delivers scale, expertise, and insights that generate bigger returns for CLM – Contract Lifecycle Management, Legal Spend Management, e-Billing, Due Diligence, Document Review, eDiscovery and Litigation Support, Commercial Services, Regulatory & Compliance, Outsourced Legal Administration, and Legal Tech Design.

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