Articles From the Team
What challenges face the in-house Lawyer? How do I progress my career within the company?
Even the largest of In-house legal teams are small compared to the overall size of the business and as the first main contact for legal queries from all angles; you are likely to have a constant flow of queries that require immediate attention. In private practice, you probably specialised in a particular field and passed work to different departments if it fell outside your area of expertise. This is not possible in-house and you will be required to apply the law to a broader variety of issues, relating the law to the problem at hand as well as having an understanding of the commercial consequences of your advice.
You will be expected to train your non lawyer colleagues, including Human Resources and sales staff on any legal updates that will have a direct impact on the running of the business. You must be prepared to cover for your colleagues or be seconded to different parts of the business when there are special projects to work on.
An in-house lawyer will be expected to make decisions with the people who directly run the business including managers and often directors. You must therefore have strong commercial acumen and an ability to offer practical business solutions. Translation of the legal implications on any business decisions taken must be communicated in plain English. If the company’s plans are unworkable, you will be relied upon to come up with a workable alternative.
Businesses are constantly changing, and you must have a flexible approach that enables you to adapt to change. Your working day will be unpredictable and your work will be varied. An ability to make decisions in a pressurised environment and to perform to short deadlines is a must.
In-house lawyers, to a certain extent, have to manage their own careers. After your first move in-house you will start to assess what skills you have and seek training in those areas where you have less experience. If you are the sole lawyer you may now be able to put a business case together which justifies growing the legal function resulting in the management of a team. If you joined a larger in-house function and wish to gain management experience, it may be that the opportunity you want will not become available unless the incumbent moves on or retires. You may need to move to another in house opportunity that offers this type of career progression.
If you see yourself in a general counsel role within a large organisation, it usually requires time served and lots of experience. First you might find yourself responsible for a business division. Here you most likely would report to the finance director of that division with another reporting line to the overall general counsel.
In house lawyers moving between sectors happens quite regularly, and companies prefer hiring those with some industry experience at a senior level rather than those coming directly from private practice. For this reason, gaining your first move in-house is crucial. Some lawyers also find that commercial, rather than strictly legal, roles become available within the business which takes them away from the law resulting in a complete shift in career.