Join our growing community

Subscribe to InView to receive fortnightly newsletters access to exclusive content and invites to exciting events near you.

Is the grass really greener on the other side?

In law, there are two camps - private practice and in-house. Moving between the two is usually a big decision, and often looks like private practice veterans opting for better work-life balance. Our interest has been piqued by an emerging trend of young in-house counsel moving to private practice.

In recent times, three members of our valued InView community decided to jump ship, leaving their in-house roles and moving into private practice. Jason Xu, Courtney Dick, and Stephen Drysdale all began their careers in-house, where they made their mark within their respective industries. What has been the driver behind their move to private practice? Are we looking at a future where moving between in-house and private practice becomes the norm?


Jason Xu
is the newly appointed Legal Operations assistant at MinterEllison. Xu was a Legal Operations assistant and Junior Corporate Counsel in his previous in-house role. His reasons for making the change were career driven, he wanted to be challenged, to build his personal brand and was fearful of becoming complacent.

Xu's in-house colleagues tried to dissuade him from making the move. "Don't go into private practice, we escaped that place," "billable hours suck," and "being in-house is the goal." Yet despite the warnings, he felt going into private practice was an itch he needed to scratch. He also chose to focus on a legal operations role, which he says negated any concerns about billable hours.

"I wanted to see the legal innovation scene in private practice," he says. The beast of private practice means a new way of legal ops, and Xu is interested in what serving a firm of one hundred lawyers looks like compared to his usual in-house team. "I am excited to see how the resourcing private practice puts into legal operations manifests, what kind of technologies are more valuable for private practice than in-house, and what are beneficial to both."

Building a personal brand is important to Xu, especially as legal operations is a relatively new space, and he wants to become respected within this burgeoning field. On a non-technical level, he believes working within a large firm will help him to develop better stakeholder and relationship management skills, especially when it comes to dealing with hierarchy and authority.

Courtney Dick
is the Senior Legal Counsel at Nano Digital Home Loans. However, before taking this role, she spent five months as a senior lawyer in private practice after leaving her three-year tenure at Rocket Lab, where she was Senior Legal Counsel.

Dick's move to private practice was very strategic. "I realized once I became Senior Legal Counsel there were areas I would have to improve on if I ever wanted to be a General Counsel," she says. She thought private practice could help polish her experience, specifically training her in more formal ways of communicating, client interaction, and opinion writing.

A non-traditional law firm was her choice. Dick wanted to be in a tech-savvy environment, and she knew fitting into a traditional firm's way of working wouldn't be easy after being in-house for over seven years. She'd spent two-and-a-half years of her life at Rocket Lab, so the full-on hours of a traditional private practice firm weren't appealing.

However, Dick quickly discovered that for her the grass was not greener. "I was frustrated by how restricted you are in the ability to help your clients as how much they can afford to spend dictates every interaction." She missed the holistic involvement and integration that in-house counsel have in business matters. "Time recording was also a massive issue for me. You spend way too much time stressing about it."

For Dick, the reality of private practice was frustrating, and being an innately commercial person, she realized she was better suited to in-house. "Although I had needed to pivot, I'd pivoted in the wrong way for me."

After an interview with Stephanie Olliver, Nano's Head of Legal, Dick realized that perhaps some of the skills she needed to become a GC could be taught by a senior mentor. She seized the opportunity to work with a mentor who inspired her and left private practice behind. "I love being part of the business and being able to step in and help as much as I can, so I'm always going to think the grass is greener in-house."


A combination of internal and external pressures motivated Stephen Drysdale to move to private practice. He left his role as In-house Counsel at ZURU to become a lawyer at LegalVision. He says the impetus to move was fueled by the fact "if I didn't move to private practice now, at the three-year in-house mark, I was cutting off the pathway".

Like Xu, Drysdale wanted a challenge. "As a young lawyer, I want to be in an unpredictable environment with diverse problems to solve that challenge me," he says. He had a great hold on supply, marketing, distribution, and consumer agreements having worked in-house, but wanted to develop a specialist skillset.

"People don't always want to admit that as in-house counsel we are generalists. We have a very high level of knowledge in many legal areas such as employment, intellectual property, and commercial law."

Drysdale wants to develop a level of specialist knowledge akin to what that the external counsel he previously outsourced work possessed. He hopes that being in private practice and dealing with similar problems countless times will progress his development.

Style was also imperative to Drysdale's move. He hopes that being exposed to many different lawyers within the firm and learning by osmosis will help him to develop a particular legal style.


Money shouldn't be overlooked as a motivating factor to change lanes. It's well-known that private practice pays better, albeit it often comes with an extra load of stress. Xu wanted reimbursement that would better reflect the contributions he makes to organizations in legal operations, saying, "I can't deny it's not important," and when looking to move he considered management consulting firms and law firms. He found remuneration to be significantly higher at the latter.

Dick points out that as a young person in today's economic climate, money is an important factor, and as an in-house lawyer company stock is a great goal. Employee Share Option Schemes in start-ups are a great way to build your wealth. Tech companies at initial or scale-up stages often offer them. Many lawyers are still unaware of the potential opportunities ESOPs present. Imagine how the early legal counsel of Afterpay is doing today? Perhaps ESOPs will become as coveted as partner positions in the future?

Drysdale notes that the certainty of remuneration in private practice is reassuring. "You have a nice little security blanket roadmap," he says. He sees the reward ESOPs offer as exciting and something to be considered but says the risk-averse nature of lawyers would make many hesitant of start-ups.


When it comes to what private practice stands to gain from their in-house recruits, Xu, Dick, and Drysdale share a common opinion: private practice lawyers benefit from in-house lawyers' ability to understand clients' needs. They all found the everyday client exposure in-house was unmatched at their equivalent private practice level.

"When you're in-house, you become used to people coming to you with a problem they don't really understand or know how to explain, so you become quite good at teasing out what actually needs to be done," says Drysdale.

There is no doubt lawyers are challenged in a private practice environment, dealing with an endless barrage of issues, hierarchy, high expectations and billable hours. But let's not forget the feeling of having the entire business kitchen sink thrown at you as a small legal team. Both have their challenges and their rewards. Xu, Dick and Drysdale believe that a future where moving between the two camps is more normalized could create better legal outcomes for everyone.

Recommended Articles

In-house legal tips straight to your inbox