6 Things You Should Know Before Moving In-House

August 14, 2023

Anyone who has worked in-house will tell you that it has its own unique set of challenges; it requires adaptability, versatility, and a comprehensive understanding of the business and the environment in which it operates. While the transition from a law firm to an in-house legal department can be exciting, it also demands a shift in mindset and approach. In this article, we  explore the various challenges lawyers face in an in-house role and provide some strategies to help you navigate these hurdles.

1. Understanding the Business:
“From legalese to business babble – embracing spreadsheets, KPIs and mission statements.”

One of the primary challenges for in-house lawyers is developing a deep understanding of the business they serve. Unlike law firms, where the focus is primarily on legal matters, in-house lawyers must learn about the organisation's goals, operations, and industry landscape. This knowledge allows you to provide practical, business-oriented advice rather than purely legal analysis. You will need to be willing to learn and should proactively engage with colleagues from different departments, attend company-wide meetings, and seek opportunities to learn about the organisation's strategic objectives.

2. Staying Current with Legal Developments:

As with any legal practice, staying current with legal developments is essential for in-house lawyers. You must keep up to date on relevant laws, regulations, and industry trends that impact the organisation. Subscribing to legal newsletters, joining communities such as our Watering Hole, participating in industry conferences, and engaging in continuing legal education are effective ways to stay informed. Furthermore, leveraging technology tools, such as legal research databases and artificial intelligence-powered platforms, can help streamline the process of gathering and analysing legal information.

3. Balancing Legal and Business Objectives:
“Ah, the delicate dance of balancing legal and commercial priorities. It's like juggling chainsaws while tap dancing on a tightrope.”

In-house lawyers often find themselves at the intersection of legal and business interests. You must learn to strike a delicate balance between mitigating legal risks and enabling business growth. This challenge requires lawyers to possess strong communication and negotiation skills, as well as the ability to offer creative solutions that align with both legal requirements and corporate goals. Collaborating closely with other stakeholders, such as executives and department heads, can facilitate a better understanding of business priorities and foster a mutually beneficial working relationship.

4. Managing Workload and Priorities:
“Remember the client is the business as a whole – not the people queued up by your desk or sending multiple chasing emails.”

Another significant challenge faced by in-house lawyers is managing a diverse and demanding workload. In-house teams tend to be lean and often handle a wide range of legal matters, including contracts, compliance, employment law, intellectual property, and litigation, among others. You will need to delegate tasks when appropriate. Regularly assessing and reassessing the importance and urgency of various assignments can help prevent burnout and ensure that critical matters receive the necessary attention.

5. Adapting to a Multidisciplinary Role:

You will serve as legal advisor, problem-solver, risk manager and agony aunt simultaneously. You will be expected to possess a broad range of skills beyond traditional legal expertise. To excel in this multidisciplinary role, actively seek opportunities to enhance your business acumen, negotiation skills, project management abilities, and understanding of technology and data protection. Developing a diverse skill set enables in-house lawyers to contribute effectively to cross-functional teams and foster collaborative relationships within the organisation.

6. Invest in relationships:
“Ask about the kids, cat, dog or fish.”

Building strong relationships is crucial for in-house lawyers to succeed in their roles. They must establish trust and credibility with internal clients, such as executives, managers, and employees, by providing timely and practical legal advice. Effective communication, active listening, and a solution-oriented approach are vital to fostering these relationships. Additionally, cultivating a network of external relationships, such as with outside counsel, industry peers, and professional associations, can provide valuable resources and support for navigating complex legal issues.

In summary…

Navigating the in-house life as a lawyer requires a sense of humour, a willingness to embrace the absurd, and the ability to juggle legal matters while maintaining a smile. You need to blend legal expertise with business acumen, adaptability, and effective communication skills. By understanding the organisation's business objectives, balancing legal and business interests, managing workloads, expanding skill sets, building relationships, and staying current with legal developments, in-house lawyers can become a real asset to the company rather than being viewed as a cost centre!

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