The Counsel Coin – Which Side Are You From?

This article was first published in the Lex Witness October 2018 issue.

There are two worlds of a legal counsel – private practice and in-house role. In this 2-part series, we are going to look at the pros and cons of each of these worlds, the differentiators and the skills required to excel in the respective chosen path.

Focus: An in-house role provides the advantage of being able to focus on just one industry, one company i.e. one client. This in-turn facilitates any lawyer to deliver a higher quality of work, as the kind is focused and trained to identify the legal threats, issues, challenges, and solutions relevant to their specific organization. In-house counsel in the present time is looked upon as the knowledge center to a great extent for the companies, wherein the non-legal colleagues trust and seek their experience and understanding of the legal impact on the business.

Management: A senior in-house role entails involvement into the organization’s management hierarchy and decision-making process. As a senior in-house counsel, you are part of the bigger picture and not just one of the many Partners in a law firm. In-house counsel is now well-versed with the business acumen of the industry they are serving in. Their knowledge is not just restricted to legal practices, but instead, in-house counsel is adept with the business practices, culture, and strategies, wherein they contribute as overall strategic growth partners.

Balance: In-house roles usually can enjoy a better work-life balance because of the absence of the pressure of billable hours. This does not at all mean that in-house counsels do not have the work pressure. Especially in the recent time, the in-house legal teams are now quite robust in terms of handling majority of the work within themselves, and only choose to outsource selective legal needs which entail practice matter specializations and appearance, like in cases of disputes.

Training: This is a dual-edged sword. In-house counsels are unmatched in their respective industries as they are well-researched and extremely knowledgeable due to their focused approach towards their industry. However, they usually lack training from the overall perspective, i.e. in the general scopes of law. It completely depends on the organizations that the in-house counsels are employed with on how much they value CLEs, and concurrently the relevant training their in-house counsels receive.

An In-House Counsel’s Skill Deck

As highlighted in one of my earlier articles, in order to set into the evolving role of the in-house counsel, following are some of the preferred skill sets that the current in-house counsel is looking up to:

Legal Acumen: Armed with the requisite legal knowledge that not just protects the business, but also helps it grow. They think from a long-term perspective, being aware of changing market regulations and trends and calculate the impact of such on the industry they work in.

Analytical Skills: With a much deeper analysis in place not limited to legal but beyond business objectives to ensure that their advice is in the best interest of the company from a resource management perspective. Whether its compliance issues, M&A or IPR portfolio management, an in-house counsel’s role is to be cognizant of the fact that the business undertakes measures that would serve them in the best way financially from a long-term perspective.

Social Intelligence: We now see much more empathetic and sociable, such that not just their own team members, but the non-legal colleagues in the company also feel comfortable to approach for advice and work. It is important for in-house counsel to foster an open-door policy in order to ensure transparency within the company culture when it comes to legal and compliance issues.

Managerial Skills: In-house counsel, especially in senior management roles, today consistently work with the business stakeholders and contribute towards the business growth decisions. Hence, it is imperative that in-house counsel is able to manage and influence the likes of Board of Directors, CEOs, CTOs, CFOs, and GMs on the legalities of running the business.

Knowledge & Innovation: You will find a plethora of knowledge management tools that in-house counsel today equips themselves with to stay updated about the latest laws and regulations affecting their industries. Whether it’s through CLEs, or being involved in various networking groups, it is key for in-house lawyers to become the knowledge hub that their companies can depend on. In-house counsel should also be aware of the new technology products and software available in the market, like cloud computing, contract drafting & management, IPR management etc. Incorporating such new technology into the daily function of the in-house legal team can help set precedence for the entire business to adapt the modernistic approach, which can be resource efficient.

Of course, on the other side of this coin is private practice. In the next issue, we will address the evolving roles within law firms, and the skills to go with them. Stay tuned!

I am the Principal Consultant at the Lex Witness Strategic Counsel Desk, an invitation based initiative, which caters to various entities who seek to create and improve their brand and undertake market activation strategies in the Indian legal market space. Much beyond the space of the magazine, the Strategic Counsel Desk aspires to provide a holistic framework for the firm’s positioning and business growth, primarily focusing on the strength in the Indian legal industry.

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