The in-house counsel role, while traditionally seen as the easier option compared to private practice, is definitely different and offers challenges of its own. While considering this transition, we outline some practical tips and qualities about this role.
Understanding the role of an in-house counsel
Before making the transition to an in-house counsel role, it is always important to have a good understanding of the job scope. When looking at the various roles, find out more information regarding the organisation or company which could be your potential employer such as its corporate structure. Details such as who are you likely to be reporting to, what teams and departments you will be directly involved in are important factors to consider as well.
The other information also required include knowing the other legal firms the organisation employs. While organisations tend to rely on their in-house counsel, others outsource certain elements of their legal matters to law firms. Knowing who the company or organisation works with can also give you a better understanding of what your role is likely to entail and who you will have to work with. Lastly, take the time to listen and read up on the company forecasts and familiarise yourself with its functions.
Qualities of a good in-house counsel
When looking to fill an in-house counsel role, organisations usually only consider candidates with a minimum of three years legal experience gained private practice. Having this experience is absolutely critical in order to perform an in-house counsel role. The role of an in-house legal counsel is not usually an adequate training ground for new or entry-level lawyers. They require the expertise and knowledge of someone who has practised law for a few years and is able to handle different legal issues of an organisation. They would want to leverage the contacts, experience and knowledge of a well-trained lawyer in their legal team.
In order to perform in this role, law professionals also need to be commercially savvy. This is because the legal matters they will have to handle often involve multiple stakeholders, different legal issues and, more importantly, often a subset of the business function in an organisation. Hence, a good in-house counsel must have the ability to see things from the business perspective, strategise and anticipate risks for the company, while handling the legal function.
The next important thing is to have an aptitude for the job which encompasses a set of soft skills. As an in-house counsel, it is essential to have strong communication skills. This is because your role will require you to connect with a variety of audiences, from external stakeholders to the heads of different departments or colleagues from other functions. There is also the need to communicate complex legal terms in understandable layman terms, as well as explain legal concepts and limitations relevant to the tasks at hand. Having strong soft skills will also allow you to work closely with different co-workers across various departments which is integral to the role. Candidates should also possess strong leadership potential. Having this skill is essential as it is likely to create opportunities in leading cross-functional teams or even your own legal team.
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