What does an in-house counsel do?

what does an in-house counsel do

The role of an in-house counsel is challenging, filled with unexpected events but most importantly, very rewarding.

For many lawyers out there, the idea may have crossed your mind: should I jump on the in-house bandwagon? However, you wonder if this is the right career move to do. 

To better answer your question, you need to know what does an in-house counsel do on a day-to-day basis? Is that a type of challenge that you would like to take on?

In this post, we will analyse this question by going over the following points:

  1. The in-house counsel role is fast growing segment in the legal profession
  2. The in-house counsel is both an advisor and the client
  3. The in-house attorney deals with many areas of the law
  4. The business demands more for less from the in-house counsel 

Now let’s get right into it.

1- The in-house counsel role is fast growing segment in the legal profession

A new trend has been emerging in the most recent decades pushing lawyers from private practice to assuming an in-house counsel role in a small, medium or large organization.

In fact, in-house lawyers is the fastest growing segment of the legal profession .

LawyersWeekly.com

This is the case as companies are cutting down on their external legal spend and organizing themselves to handle the legal activity in-house.

For companies in a position to afford the hiring of an in-house counsel, they can drive many benefits from hiring a lawyer in-house:

  1. Ability to stabilize its legal budget

  2. Having a lawyer who fully understands the inner-mechanics of the company

  3. Soliciting the lawyer’s advice both from a legal perspective and a business perspective

  4. Having a legal advisor to refer to at all times without having to pay expensive hourly rates 

With the growing number of in-house legal advisors, there is a growing body of knowledge and best-practices that has developed over the years allowing internal lawyers to achieve greater efficiency, track legal operation KPI’s, cut costs and drive revenues to the business.

Over the past 25 years, the power and prestige of the in-house lawyers has only grown where organizations operate legal departments that rival the size of large outside law firms according to an American scholar Robert Eli Rosen’s article published in 1989.

2- The in-house counsel is both an advisor and the client

The in-house counsel is both the advisor to the client and the client at the same time. This is a particularly unique position to be in as a lawyer. 

You will be engaged in business transactions both from the legal perspective and as a business partner and you must find the right balance between when to give a strong legal opinion to challenge a business decision and when to ride the business wave. 

At the end of the day, your organization will require that you “enable the business” as opposed to merely advise on what may be the risks associated with a business decision.

You will therefore have a seat around the table to commercially steer the business in new uncharted territories and new markets. 

In some cases, your business will want to take an aggressive stance in penetrating a certain business segment creating legal ripple effects that you will be mandated to monitor and neutralize. 

In this context, an in-house counsel will morph into business partners as opposed to pure legal advisors and will feel the joys and hardships of good or bad business decisions. 

Being the advisor to the client and operating within the client is therefore an exhilarating experience. Your legal background is leveraged both to mitigate legal risk, ensure compliance, deal with dispute and litigation but also to help the business players push the envelope and scale.

3- The in-house attorney deals with many areas of the law

In-house attorneys will deal with many areas of the law in their day-to-day run at the mill.

Considering that a company will have many departments, many business segments, products or services, the in-house counsel will also be solicited to give legal advice with respect to each of the business operations.

In a given period of time, an in-house lawyer can deal with contract law, intellectual property matters, be involved in dealing with a litigation matter, look over the corporate books, handle financing and mergers and acquisitions transactions, consider employment law and labour dispute matters and more.

As an in-house attorney, you must be comfortable in being pushed out of your comfort zone in looking at legal considerations in areas of the law that may not be your core specialty.

With enough exercise, you will become a legal generalist learning all the relevant areas of the law that is pertinent for your corporate client’s day-to-day operations.

4- The business demands more for less from the in-house counsel 

What does an in-house counsel do

If you think that in-house legal advisors have a nice nine to five type of job and a full weekend to enjoy, you should think again. This is a myth that does not hold far from the truth.

Companies are constantly looking at increasing their bottom line by investing in their revenue generating departments and cutting costs in their cost centers.

Legal departments are typically an important cost center in an organization and therefore the legal operational budget is constantly under scrutiny.

Businesses with legal departments want to maximize the benefits of having an in-house counsel by doing more internally and minimizing external legal spend.

This is where we frequently say that in-house lawyers and teams are asked to perform more, produce more and spend less and operate with smaller budgets. This is an inherent consequence of being a cost center in an organization. 

Considering the company’s objective is to maximize its lawyer’s utilization rate, the lawyers are under significant pressure to perform and produce. 

In fact, 63% percent of in-house lawyers feel that they have a greater level of pressure to deal with than just a year according to a Konexo report

According to the same report, 38% of legal counsels made reference to feeling cost pressures and 41% indicated not having enough resources to do what’s required from them.

This trend of producing more with less has brought many legal departments and legal operations to consider leveraging technology to cut costs and achieve a higher level of efficiency. 

Conclusion 

As you can see, the role of the in-house counsel is as challenging and demanding as that of an attorney in private practice.

While the attorney in private practice will acquire an expert knowledge, the lawyer in-house will develop a general practice of the law. 

To succeed in the role of an in-house counsel:

  1. you must be able to be self-reliant most of the time

  2. provide legal advice to your client with the objective of enabling your client as opposed to dissuading your client

  3. deal with many areas of the law and be comfortable outside of your comfort zone, and

  4. work long and hard hours without the support staff that a lawyer in private practice may benefit from

The in-house legal segment is growing as companies recognize the economic benefits of having a solid in-house department where they can directly manage the budget and costs and the substantive benefits of receiving greater legal advice from the lawyer who truly understands the business.

Are you considering an in-house legal position? Ready for the challenge?