Batman joker
"I'm dealing with a complete Joker here." A lawyer and a client (characters are interchangeable).

Lawyers have hit back at in-house counsel, describing their clients as ranging from being "utterly useless" to "overbearing bullies" (although there are some "nice ones" in between).

The comments were prompted by The RollOnFriday In-House Lawyer Survey 2024, where in-house lawyers offered their opinions on billing, diversity, wfh, knackered juniors, arrogant partners, and the best and the worst service.  

In response to the criticism from clients, one solicitor clapped back with their own review for in-house lawyers, noting some "highlights":

  • "The in-house lawyer that ruined my holiday to prepare documentation 'just in case' a specific issue arose which never did and then refused to pay. 
  • The in-house lawyers that demand immediate availability and then refuse to pay our bills.
  • The in-house lawyers that speak about diversity and inclusion but then complain about trainees from diverse backgrounds 'not being professional'.
  • When I was a trainee, an in-house banking lawyer that spent an entire lunch fondling my supervising senior associate’s elbow much to her discomfort.
  • The in-house lawyer that refused to take advice on disclosures, called us 'bad lawyers', went somewhere else that did what she wanted and then when the regulator came calling, tried to blame us (that was the end of her)."

One lawyer said, from their experience, in-house lawyers fell into three categories: 

"1. Utterly useless ones who are there because they didn’t do well in private practice. Generally nice to work for, but probably shouldn’t have needed external counsel. 
2. Nice ones who know their stuff and know what they don’t know, appreciate the value added by external counsel, and make life very easy. Great stuff.
3. Overbearing bullies who aren’t interested for 99% of the matter and then get involved at the 11th hour with big ideas, claiming everything is easy, and really mucking everything up. These are the absolute worst." 

Another lawyer listed an additional category: "Overbearing bully who insists on micromanaging every step of the process, purportedly as part of an attempt to manage costs, but ends up slowing everything down and (ironically) driving up costs because they are too simple to understand anything." 

Numerous lawyers dismissed the call by in-house lawyers to ditch time-based billing. "Show me a GC who wants 'fixed fees' and I'll show you a GC who is only willing to sign up to a cost cap and not a genuine fixed fee arrangement," said one lawyer. 

"Whenever I suggest value-based billing, my clients suddenly realise that the value I provide exceeds the time-based metric and decide that they don’t want to pay more than the time it took," said another lawyer. 

One lawyer said it was wrong to compare lawyers with other professions when it comes to billing. "Accountants use fixed fee pricing because they tend to do fixed scope work to a fixed timetable," said one lawyer. "You can't have fixed fees and an on demand, open scope service provision."

Another commented: "If you go to a builder and ask for a fixed price for an extension and then say 'by the way, I'll give you the plans and specification at a later date and change them repeatedly during the build' they will probably tell you to stick it where the sun doesn't shine."

Several lawyers observed that when in-house lawyers ask for fee-models to "share risk", it is one-sided. "I'd love to price a transaction at a sensible fixed fee that preserves some upside and downside for my firm. Only trouble is I've yet to find a client that is willing to share the upside as well as downside." 

Another bugbear was clients that complain about paying for research. "Do you want us just to guess at the answer?" mused one lawyer. 

A number of lawyers said they had experienced in-house lawyers being notably tight. One had a stint working in-house for "a well known insurer" which was "legendary for its meanness". The GC "would hold meetings in London at 9am and refuse to pay for hotels the night before for those coming from the regions." When the trains were late, the insurer "then tried to get the delay repay clawed back from staff for their travel budget". 

In-house lawyers had called for firms to stop beasting associates, but many lawyers pointed the finger back at the clients as the cause of the problem. "For every client that says this, there are three more that will provide instructions at 5pm for something they want to review within 1-2 working days," said one lawyer. 

"Half the reason why there are 'ridiculous hours' is due to urgency (which is often last minute) from the client side," commented a lawyer. 

    LU icon Firms ping LawyerUp when they like you for a role. It's available on the App Store and Google Play.

Thank you for taking part in RollOnFriday's survey of in-house lawyers. We use the results to write stories and reports. We don't take your name and so the answers you provide will be kept anonymous.
Your role
Your sector
When you're picking a firm, what's the most important factor?
How do you think the size of your in-house team will change over the next two years?
Will this be at the expense of instructing private practice?
How happy are you with your external lawyers working from home?
Tip Off ROF


Dearie 21 June 24 08:14

Lol! So basically private practice lawyers utterly fail to manage both client and expectations? Seriously, look to your senior managers who allow crap clients without managing them. 

Anonymous 21 June 24 08:58

This is just trolling by RoF. I can sense lawyers on both side of the aisle being triggered into more bloodletting.

Anon 21 June 24 09:46

Encouraging an “us and them” narrative just isn’t helpful or constructive- but I guess it’s what passes for journalism in polarised times - and I suppose it’s working as I’ve bothered to post a comment. 
Anyway, for what it’s worth I instruct the external lawyers I do because they know my business and I trust them. They’re a valued part of the team - if I didn’t think of them that way, I wouldn’t instruct them. They see more of the market than I do now I’m in house, which can be hugely valuable when you’re working in an area with virtually no caselaw that is constantly evolving. I try not to be unreasonable with timing demands and clear about what I’m asking for, giving as much info as I can. Sometimes deadlines are tight because they’re imposed on us and outside our control with limited or no ability to push back - but that’s the exception. Everyone will have horror stories about nightmare unreasonable client and high-handed external counsel, but (at least in my field) that’s mercifully rare.

Dave 21 June 24 09:49

The latest in the instalment of ROF building up beef between inhouse lawyers and private practice. I'll get the popcorn.

Jamie Hamilton 21 June 24 10:04

It's just a bit of fun 9:46. We're all friends. 

And have you seen those infuriating mobile phone game adverts where the unseen player makes a really basic mistake? It's like that - any upset at the unfairness of this representation will actually bring everyone closer together. 

Anonymous 21 June 24 10:28

As a former partner who's fairly recently moved in-house, I'd say most of the comments about in-house are fair but also a lot of the comments about private practice are true too.  

For what its worth (not much) our internal stakeholders are a nightmare to manage and often totally unreasonable (and often sitting right next to you): as an example, a firm agreed to deliver something "by the end of the week" and my CEO phoned me at 5:31pm to chase.  (Fortunately the firm had delivered).

AbsurdinessBrown 21 June 24 12:01

I have no idea how anyone could every tolerate working in house. 

Being an employee to people who have absolutely no idea what our professional requirements and obligations are. 

I met battle scarred former inhouse lawyers around 5PQE and their stories terrified me as much as my experience as a newly qualified lawyer working (in a firm) for the solicitor's insurer. 

Anoun 21 June 24 12:13

As an in-house lawyer at private equity powerhouse “InvestCount”, I am very much looking forward to the funding the next round of salary rises for NQ solicitors at some of the greats, including but not limited to Debevoise (pronounced “Debbie varze”) & Plimple, Stimpston Statcher, and Twaddleshaw Twaddard (which you may have gathered from humble LinkedIn posts has recently won the greatest law firm of all time award at the greatest law firm of all time awards 2024, and not before time). These unsung heroes work tirelessly for the good of society and I, for one, am happy to stump up for their most excellent services in order that they may be richly awarded in this life if not also the next. 

Popcorn muncher 21 June 24 13:27

Just here for the weekly off-load about in-house wife-swapping in the Cayman Islands

Anon 21 June 24 13:39

I’ve found that 95% of the time in-house counsel are a good bunch.  They understand the pressures of delivery, what goes into it behind the scenes, and just want a good service and sensible management of fees. 

3-ducks 21 June 24 15:46

Until recently I would have said that the comments about both sets of lawyers were rather unfair. 

But then I watched the Post Office Inquiry.  

Anon 21 June 24 18:03

One favourite is the in-house lawyer who lets something languish in the too-hard basket.  Only when it's urgent are external lawyers instructed. 

We then are asked to turn it around, maybe with pressure on the budget as the in-house person was expected to cover it. The complexity is forgotten.  

Anon-y-mouse 24 June 24 13:30

Private practice lawyers: "Urgh, wouldn't life be easier without clients." In-house lawyers: "Urgh, I hate my snooty external counsel overcharging me". Geez RoF, we get it. In-house hates private practice, private practive hates in-house. 

Can we just get back to the Rof Comment Section's favorite pastime of hating on offshore lawyers. 

Love from an offshore in-house lawyer...I can feel the love already.  

Horses for courses 26 June 24 07:12

Law firms: 

Client care 101. Law firms promote partners who are not trained in client management or team management. We have law firms run by partners who are not leaders. They daren't stand up to clients, and they cannot manage their teams. It's simple; manage your clients and support your team you useless overpaid pompous twats. Promote actual leaders who other lawyers look up to. Or, change the structure, maybe you need non-fee earning partners on a par with f/e partners - different skillsets. horses for courses. It's the same for the Big4 accountancy firms - departments run by useless lemons - technically, excellent, but no leadership qualities. Management and leadership roles require ongoing training - it's not a side hustle and it doesn't come naturally to introverted geeks like lawyers and accountants. 


In-house lawyers receive zero leadership training, and in some cases, zero training at all, yet they are expected to manage external senior stakeholders. NQ to 2 PQE lawyers getting thrown into a HOL role is not smart is it, asking them to coordinate with a 20 PQE partner or a senior barrister. Then you're also asking them to manage the CEO of the company when they can't even manage a spreadsheet. Non-lawyers running companies have no idea about legal matters, and this means thy also have unrealistic expectations for work turnaround. In-house counsel need to manage their CEO's expectations, not put additional unrealistic pressure on your instructing lawyer.  Legal departments need to mature. Stop scrimping on hiring legal counsel, it's not a cost cutting exercise in the short-term, your legal counsel will save you money in the long-run. 

There are good and bad lawyers on both sides but it all comes from the top - poor leadership. 

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