Blog 12 | In da house - a day in the life of in-house counsel
In-house lawyers are the fastest growing segment of the legal profession. The role of the in-house lawyer has changed and grown over the years. Gone are the perceptions of ‘paper pushing’ and cushy hours. The in-house lawyer is a commercially driven, highly trusted legal adviser who works within an organisation, often having a seat at the decision making table as well. In-house lawyers are ‘more than just lawyers’ - working on high value transactions and advising the boards on strategy and risk. In-house lawyers are expected to be business people and legal advisors. However, there is more and more pressure on such lawyers to deliver more value, and ‘do more with less’. The ‘client’ is with them 24/7 - in fact, they advise the client and are the client all at the same time.
In-house counsel are often generalists. We like to call them the “GPs of the legal world” - always diagnosing and assisting with everyday issues faced by the organisation. However if there is a particularly specialised or unusual matter, then an in-house counsel can refer to a specialist to assist (and that is where the role of the law firm or law firm panel comes in).
To compare to private practice, in-house lawyers generally don’t have billable hours or targets (win!). But don’t let this fool you - this doesn’t mean there is less work to be done. While you may have a little bit more flexibility and may not have to work until midnight every night, the hours that you do work during the day can be very intense - as you might work on 10 different things that are all urgent!
A typical day in-house
No two days are the same in-house. The work is extremely varied. There can be a lot of pressure to respond to matters urgently, and there is a lot of ‘putting out fires’. On a typical day, you might work on anything from contract law, to competition and consumer law, property law, employment, intellectual property, dispute resolution, mergers and acquisitions, insolvency, privacy law, and everything in between. This is all the ‘business as usual’ (BAU) work. You may also be working on team projects to improve the way the legal team works - such as document automation or preparing training materials.
Here is an example of a typical day:
8am: check emails, prioritise your tasks for the day and respond to the quick questions.
9am: attend legal team meeting to discuss workload.
9.30-10.30am: attend your legal clinic, where business clients can turn up and ask quick questions and obtain legal advice.
10.30-12.30: review a large customer agreement and type up your changes in tracking. You need to call the client to clarify some questions before you send them the typed up contract.
1-2: phone call with marketing team on their new marketing campaign, including a new tagline which they’ve asked you to apply for as a trade mark. You email your IP law firm to apply for the trade mark.
2-3: you receive an urgent email about an employee issue. You put aside the sponsorship agreement you had planned to review at this time, to advise HR on what to do next.
3-4: review the sponsorship agreement that has been sitting in your inbox for a few days. You see that the client hasn’t used the right template so you call them to let them know where to find the right template. You also respond to some emails that have come through, and notice that 5 more contracts have been sent to you for review. You put them in your to-do list and schedule time in your calendar to attend to them.
4-6: the major M&A deal that has been bubbling away in the background has started gaining momentum - you review some documents that have come through on the dataroom, and call the strategy team and external law firm to discuss next steps.
6-7: the sponsorship agreement comes back in the correct format, so you review this document and send it back to the client.
7: you send emails to the clients who sent you work during the day to acknowledge you’ve received them and will get back to them as soon as you can.
Being an in-house lawyer is amazing. It is a huge learning curve when you first start, and really, the learning never stops.
If you are commercially driven, strategic, creative, open-minded, and confident to be able to ‘issue-spot’ and ask the right questions, perhaps a career in-house is for you?