Articles From the Team
Senior In-house Counsel - does your employer value your role?
The roles and responsibilities of an in-house lawyer vary wildly from company to company and consequently the value that legal can add to a business, or it is expected to add, is often determined by what has gone before, by budget and/or the vision and direction of the company directors, stakeholders and shareholders. Unlike a finance department, a legal department is typically not a prerequisite and so what a legal department looks like and does is somewhat subjective and open to interpretation.
I have recently assisted a mid-sized international engineering company to recruit its first dedicated Legal Director / Sole Counsel. As a former subsidiary of a much larger international business, my client’s leadership team had prior experience of working with in-house legal and therefore a clear understanding of the value that an experienced legal hire can bring to a business, both legally and in a commercial sense.
Whilst they were initially open to considering individuals with a range of experience, my client took the decision early in the process to solely focus on individuals with significant and varied UK and international experience, as well as strategic and wider commercial expertise. They saw the role as a high-profile commercial business position and they put the post-holder on an equal footing with other senior commercial stakeholders such as the Group FD.
The above is an example from one company with its own specific requirements however their approach to recruiting a Sole Counsel / Legal Director level appointment seems a good one. They took the decision that the legal department was critical for their current and ongoing success, and they made the decision to put legal on an equal footing to other key departments in their organisation. The solicitor has been tasked with assisting on a range on legal, commercial, compliance, regulatory and governance matters, they are involved in Board meetings and their opinion and expertise is valued and sought-after by their peers.
Whilst I recognise that not all employers will require such a senior legal resource as the above, as many clients are simply content to recruit in-house counsel to undertake legal work more cheaply (by saving on costly external legal fees), I do feel that employers who recruit solely on cost, where the lawyer is considerable less well paid than their peers, are somewhat devaluing their legal department and are missing out on valuable knowledge, experience and insight.
General Counsel, Legal Director and some Sole Counsel level legal appointments are commercial business roles which involve a significant amount of responsibility and involvement. Like the Finance Director or Commercial Director, the Legal Director / General Counsel is often (or at least they should be) a Board level staff member, sitting at the table as a Director in their own right or through their dual-position as Company Secretary. They help to shape and develop business strategy; ensuring that the company adheres to relevant laws and regulation (internal and external), across every territory the company operates within; and they are often called upon to handle governance, compliance and company secretarial duties too. This is in addition to any legal or commercial advice they are asked to provide on a wide range of issues.
Alongside the vast array of day-to-day duties and responsibilities, the Legal Director / General Counsel is expected to possess gravitas, be persuasive, demonstrate commercial nous and be capable of instilling confidence. They are often a confidant to the Board / Senior Stakeholders and a key player in dealing with regulators and other external parties. They do more than just churn out legal work and they should undoubtedly be viewed on an equal footing alongside other senior department stakeholders.