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In-House Lawyers: Stereotypes and Expectations

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02 March 2017 16:12

On meeting a lawyer of the old-school variety at a recent party I explained that I now work in-house. His response – an immediate lack of interest prefaced by a comment that I must only want babies - got me thinking.

Is that the general assumption of city lawyers? Do they revile their in-house relations and sneer at those of us who make the leap? Or are they quietly jealous?

On making enquiries I found the responses to be mixed, ranging from the complementary to the critical with the desperate somewhere in between - “at least in-house you're not expected to be shitting blood for half your career”, wept one respondent from a sleeping pod (probably).

I suspect that those who harbour the strongest objections to in-house lawyers are those found at the extremities of private practice - the genuine lover at one end and the exhausted hater at the other, wedded to their firm forever more due to their mortgage and expensive children. The lover simply cannot understand why someone would leave the cosy fold of the firm which has treated them so well and the hater needs to validate their life choices by defecating on the green, green grass over the fence. Photo by taliesin at Morguefile.com

From everyone else comes a more balanced view, though I don’t doubt there is a certain feeling of intellectual superiority in some quarters of private practice or, as someone once said to me, “isn’t in-house all chats about EastEnders and shoes?”.

I have also encountered a more physical, macho superiority in the private practice lawyer who suspects that the in-house lawyer simply couldn’t hack the pace. All this chat about “having other interests” and “wanting to see family” is just a cosy disguise for our thin-skins. Photo by kconnor at Morguefile.com

A common response brands the in-house lawyer a "rubber stamp" for the business - an unfair accusation in my experience as I certainly have the power to prevent the business taking a decision and often steer them down different paths. It seems a strange perception to me considering that the in-house lawyer is privy to business decision making at a much earlier stage than their city cousins.

Comments that the in-house lawyer is a “jack of all trades”, with the resulting implication left politely dangling, may be more justified. When asked to advise on an utterly new aspect of the law the in-house lawyer often has no choice other than to get on with it, or if they’re lucky blag some free advice from old friends (the best piece of advice for an in-house lawyer - cling on to your private practice friends with both hands and make subtle hints about future work).

In defence of the in-house lawyer I prefer to echo the answer of a friend who, in response to my probing and in the words of my favourite heroin-addict, said, “overall, the general perception is that in-house lawyers choose life.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RCxgqHqakXc&t=23s


  

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anonymous user
03/03/2017 02:53
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Can I just ask why an in-house lawyer would be given "the power to prevent the business taking a decision"? Somewhat erodes your obligations as a lawyer.
anonymous user
03/03/2017 09:20
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your written English is very poor - perhaps this is why private practice lawyers have assumed they are brighter than you
anonymous user
03/03/2017 10:51
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"Can I just ask why an in-house lawyer would be given "the power to prevent the business taking a decision"? Somewhat erodes your obligations as a lawyer." makes absolutely no sense at all. Fairly standard blinkered pp response that doesn't see law in any other model than ivory-tower PP. Why shouldn't a lawyer have power to prevent the company from taking a decision? In what way does that erode any obligations? Presumably you prefer to be ineffectual and give vague advice from the side not expecting it to be followed?
anonymous user
03/03/2017 13:26
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Don't be a Canute, 09:20. If moaning over small grammatical errors on a chat website is all you've got to live for, it's pretty obvious which camp you fall into. Particularly when you've failed to capitalise or punctuate in your own comment. Tw@.
anonymous user
03/03/2017 15:41
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@09:20 Skitt's law

@02:53 Please tell me you are not a practising lawyer. That is exactly the reason in-house counsel exists - to keep the business on the straight and narrow. If you as an in-house lawyer didn't stop the business from doing something illegal you would not be doing your job properly.
anonymous user
03/03/2017 17:50
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As an in-house myself, I find it as challenging as private practice (in different ways, admittedly) but there is a much greater degree of accountability. When you make a balls up (and anyone who says they never have is lying) there's no insurance policy, no 'we just advise, it's up to you to apply it'.

The best bit is being involved in business - 'commercial awareness' may be a much-desired trait in private practice, but it's the absolute core of everything in-house. And that's why I much prefer in-house: it feels like I'm not just learning how to apply dry legal principles to meaningless contracts; I'm helping to make deals which need to be both achievable and profitable for my company.
anonymous user
14/03/2017 00:41
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@10:51 - not a PP response at all - its my observation as a senior in-house lawyer. A lawyer who has the power to make commercial decisions is not a lawyer at all. Moreover, your response indicates your own little ivory tower of "I'm a lawyer: I know best, so do as I say". Businesses do not like being dictated to. There are many reasons why a business would choose not to follow legal advice, or to note it and take a considered risk. I do not give vague advice, but I'm not going to kill myself and throw my toys out of the pram if I've discharged my duty to give good and proper advice and the business does not want to follow it (for whatever reason).

@15:41 - yes I am a practising lawyer. I'm not talking about something illegal - and neither is the author of the article. An in-house lawyer is also not "to keep the business on the straight and narrow" - in-house is one of a number of advisors who help a business make its own risk-based decisions.

Both of you misinterpret what "making a decision" means. As an in-house lawyer, I will stridently argue that my advice and recommendations are implemented - it is not my decision as to whether they are implemented, however. If you want to do that, you are exposing yourself to criticism when things go wrong - as hey do. What if the executive who has sought your advice has not reveleaed key commercial details to you, and then asks "what should I do"? Why would you want to make a decision? I have had the CEO not follow my advice for reasons of company and ownership politics. This is the basis of independence, no matter where you are shilling your trade (whether in-house or PP).