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.”