The number of solicitors working in-house is growing at a faster rate than those in private practice and is predicted to reach 35 per cent of the profession by 2020. Below Emma Duffy discusses some of her views based on her experience of working in-house:
I moved in-house at the early stages of my career as I wanted to be at the forefront of the business and had a yearning to be involved in both the commercial and legal aspects of the business. In addition to completing the legal work assigned to me I wanted to fully understand the drivers behind the corporate transactions, the litigation and the commercial disputes. Fundamentally I wanted to play a key role in the business rather than sit outside it.
Attractions to Working In-house
There are numerous attractions to working as an in-house lawyer or solicitor as opposed to working in private practice in a traditional law firm setting.
Variety: Depending on the industry you work in, and the size of the legal team you join or help grow, you will more than likely find that no two days are the same. If you like variety, then in-house may be the right career move.
Supporting HR & Talent Management: Your workload could consist of supporting the human resources and talent management team with employment matters, or perhaps you could be setting up contract templates for the sales and purchasing teams and advising them on tender processes.
Commercial or Employment Issues: You could also be involved in a myriad of commercial or employment-related disputes and at the same time be tasked with managing intellectual property issues or ethical and regulatory matters. You may also be called upon to provide support for company acquisitions and disposals.
Crisis Management: Becoming a key player in the company’s crisis management task force may also become part of your workload. It certainly was a part of some of my previous roles, as it is at the moment for many General Counsel and their legal teams across the globe as businesses navigate their way through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Risk Management: As in-house counsel you may be tasked with risk management responsibilities including the management of the business’ insurance portfolio. A mixed bag of roles and responsibilities which means there should hopefully never be a dull moment.
Working Closely with Non-legal Professionals: Another aspect of working in-house that I enjoy is working closely with other non-legal professionals. Often the business needs a project team that requires operational, financial, legal and sometimes HR professionals.
Depending on the business that you step into and the structure, or lack of it, this may mean that a huge part of your role involves putting in place processes and training non-legal personnel so that they can manage some of the day to day issues so that you and or your small legal team are not swamped with minor requests.
Becoming involved in the non-legal aspects of the business will give you the experience to become general counsel for the company.
During your time in-house you will offer, or will be required to provide advice which has to be given on a practical basis. It is usually urgent and it must be advice and guidance that you can stand over as you have one client; the business that employs you (which may be one company or a group of companies).
Utilising Your Extra Skills: Working in-house allows you to utilise your “extra skills”. In addition to your legal training you must be commercially astute and be able to communicate the answer to the questions asked considering not only the legal aspects of the problem or project but also being mindful of the financial, commercial and operational aspects.
Oftentimes legal advice provided in private practice is given in isolation without an awareness of the other drivers such as the long term goals of the company, the PR impact, the financial drivers and so on.
There Is No Time Clock…When I worked as a trainee and junior lawyer my least favourite part of the role was clicking the “red clock/the green clock” as it was called back in those days, in order to achieve my billable hours or fee target. There is no time clock in-house and this is a huge benefit. All matters must be treated with the same enthusiasm and are results driven and outcome focused rather than fee driven.
Alas, it is a myth that those who move in-house do so for an easier, more relaxed, 9-5 role. This has not been my experience as deliverables are business driven and just as time critical. I have however always been fortunate enough to work for organisations that recognise additional hours worked etc which are rewarded with flexible working and hard work mirrored with meeting specific objectives means that progress can also be made by promotions or salary increases etc.
Resources, Training & Support: Those of you who make the move in-house will avail of a plethora of resources and in-house counsel groups that were not available when I started. Continuing professional development for in-house lawyers has certainly evolved over the years and there are now many groups for in-house lawyers and law firms offering specific training and events for general counsel/in house counsel. This is something that wasn’t available in the early days (2003/2004).
As a result of the increase in the number of in-house counsel there has been a growing desire for external counsel and law firms to support those in-house legal teams. Law firms are frequently showing this support via the provision of targeted training events.
If your next career move brings you in-house you will have the opportunity to play a continuing, long term role in the company’s executive decision-making process and hopefully enjoy the journey.
Emma’s next blog will touch on making the transition from private practice to in-house.
About Emma Duffy
Emma Duffy’s in-house career spans over 15 years. She started out as a commercial in-house lawyer for a large pharmaceutical services group of companies and moved up the ranks to become General Counsel and Company Secretary for a manufacturing conglomerate. Emma now provides interim support to businesses that require an experienced, hands-on, corporate commercial lawyer. Emma can be contacted via LinkedIn or email firstname.lastname@example.org