Opinion | 07-09-16

Is the job title important when moving roles in-house?

How important is a job title? We work with a variety of businesses and we always see a wide range of job titles in their legal teams. There is no real consistency because it very much comes down to the individual business. We find certain roles a tough sell to candidates because the job title is not what they are looking for and is not perceived to be enough of a step up or even a step up at all. In this article Li Ji discusses how important the job title really is. 

The perfect example

By way of example some time ago we worked with a multinational company looking to hire a legal head in mainland China. This lawyer was required to have 6-8 years’ legal practice experience and the role reported to the legal head of Greater China. The team consisted of one other lawyer with 3 years’ legal experience. The salary was competitive and the industry was promising. However, the job title for the role was “Assistant Legal Counsel”.

Some candidates who showed interest in the role initially became not so keen when they learnt the job title. There is a general progression in the legal sector; legal assistant/paralegal, legal specialist, legal counsel, senior legal counsel, legal head/general counsel. In this instance therefore candidates with experience at the 6-8 PQE level often feel they should be seen at the senior legal counsel level and are not happy at being considered an Assistant Legal Counsel in their next position.  

The job title will not tell you the whole story

When considering a new role the job title should only be one aspect of consideration; there are several reasons why this is the case: 

  1. Each MNC has its own way of establishing their job titles.  In some local subsidiaries of MNCs, a legal head can have the title of VP, while in others, a similar role might be labelled as Regional Counsel or Senior Legal Counsel. However, the job function might be very similar and the title does not preclude these regional counsel from working as a member of the executive board/management board, or being responsible for the local decision making and leading their legal team.
     
  2. It is important to consider the world wide nature of a role as different MNCs may have a different international presence. Therefore, it would be too simple to say that one should aim for the senior legal counsel role for the next role as a step up from a legal counsel position. A candidate should also consider other important elements such as the potential learning opportunities, personal development and career path provided by the role. Most senior in-house counsels will agree with this. For example, one candidate who is the legal head of a small-sized MNC would consider a move to a Senior Legal Counsel role, if the new role were to offer a stronger, more international platform and great career development. 
     
  3. Some in-house counsels are not willing to consider a sole counsel or senior legal counsel role because they are currently leading a legal team as legal head, even if their current platform can’t afford them substantial career development or a larger package. We often say to candidates that sometimes in order to progress in their career they need to consider a sideways move. For example we may suggest a lawyer move from a small business to somewhere larger. Big companies often have more complicated structures than small ones, and like in most businesses, the legal heads in large companies are likely to be more senior than those in small companies. Also the internal policies of large companies are likely to be better established than those of small companies. Usually, in-house counsels from small companies are of interest to a larger company. In a move like this the job title may be regarded as a demotion but it is good for career development as lawyers will gain more experience being part of a larger platform. 

Further information is key

Although it is rare for a lawyer to completely disregard a role based on the title, a lesser job title is something that many struggle with. While it is important to always consider the role with a job title you might not be 100% happy with, equally it is important not to be blinded by the title itself if it sounds very attractive. The actual job description should still be seriously considered above all else. 

It is in these situations that a recruiter can really add value for a candidate. Often there is a gap in the information between a candidate and the company; candidates do not always receive all the information. However, by working with a recruiter, candidates will be able to stay up to date on the position, know and better understand the short and long term plans for the role and understand the potential of the role instead of focusing purely on the title, as well as assessing the role and indeed title in the context of the wider marketplace.  

If you would like more information on the current market or to find out more about the opportunities we are currently working on please contact Shawn Chen on +86 21 6103 7331 or via email [email protected].