Written by Emma Norman, Senior legal Counsel at Invesco
I love in-house lawyering. Like, really love it. If you ask about my career, or follow me on LinkedIn, that will be immediately apparent. But I’ve found that many lawyers who remain in private practice have questions (or even fears) about what in-house lawyering looks like. Gone are the days of spending your days reviewing NDAs; these days, being an in-house lawyer is being a general problem solver, a partner for business growth, and a good listener.
Regardless of how senior you are, or what kind of institutions you’re going to work in, the following ten tips will help you transition from private practice to in-house:
Adjust your lawyering…
You’ll quickly change how you work and how you deliver your legal advice. Embrace it! Time to become that go-to jack of all trades you always knew you could be….
- Use concise & plain English: speaking legalease is the exception, not the rule. Can you land an answer in one word? Maybe one sentence? Preferably no more than one paragraph.
- Adios perfection, hola good enough: if you try to apply your private practice standards to everything you do in-house, you will go insane.
- Don’t overstretch your capacity; don’t over promise on deadlines: you’ll see so many non-legal problems you think you can / should fix; don’t do it (or at least, not every time). And your time is more your own – no more partners promising things yesterday, then expecting you to do it.
- Opinions good; caveats bad: there is nuance to this, but you will be expected to have more firm opinions, more often – and nobody in the business will listen to (or remember) all your caveats, so don’t bother with them unless you really have to.
- Lean on your external lawyers: you’re not alone and you’re not required to have the answers to all questions at your fingertips. Use your friendly external lawyers (even in times of tight budgets, most will give you a bit of their time for free).
…and think differently
Ever wondered what “analytical ability” really looks like? It’s the ability to take in loads of information about any subject, ask questions and spot gaps, consider it all in your big lawyer brain, then spit out an answer, recommendation or opinion. This applies to almost any topic, and is certainly not limited to technical legal queries. And its why in-house lawyers are often called on to help with many different types of issues.
But how do you build that trust with the business, and how can you give a pragmatic recommendation or response?
- Risk: where are your internal clients on the risk spectrum? Your job is to give them information to make a decision, and often that may include a range of options – but try to anticipate where to “pitch” any suggestion.
- Patience: absent a day 1 crisis, it will take the business a while to get used you, especially if they’ve historically had bad or distant relationships with in-house legal.
- Role: you’re not lawyering in a vacuum; how does the firm make money (or what is the NGO/institution’s mission) and where does legal fit in? How do you facilitate that in a risk-appropriate manner through your advice and support?
- 360 learning: ask, ask, ask. The business will make time to answer your questions if you’re genuinely interested, and if they reap the rewards in more targeted and quick advice. And don’t be afraid to teach the business either – don’t assume they know basic legal concepts, which could have commercial implications.
- Bring your energy: lawyers are problem solvers at heart; bring that energy and all your non-legal expertise to the table. That could include mediation, diplomacy, project management, and even *gasp* emotional intelligence.
Above all, don’t be afraid to make the leap into in-house. The highest expectations will come from yourself – and if those expectations are at private practice levels of perfection, it’s time to breathe and let them drop a little….