What is my role as an in-house lawyer?

The first in-house lawyer in my organisation: tips for new starters

Day 1
Arrive at new desk, a new laptop, no precedents, and new colleagues, some of whom have no idea what you are for, some of whom are politely sceptical, and others who are desperate to off-load work onto you…

Day 2
Phew, got through some inductions, now the first e-mail request for advice has come in. Fortunately the Finance Director had arranged for a subscription to XYZ super legal service, so you have that and Google/Bing to help…

Day 3
Delighted colleague: Thank goodness you’ve arrived, you really sorted that one out quickly, here’s another 17 contracts I’ve been holding onto, would you mind just…
Bemused colleague: What exactly is force majeure?
Irate colleague: What do you mean, you’ve amended my contract? That’s not how we do things here…

Day 4
So I’ve done the 11 online training courses on Bribery Act, Health and Safety etc. How on earth will I ever understand this organisation?

Day 5
179 unanswered emails from 36 different Departments. Can I phone a friend?

So how can I get help?

Well, first of all, there are great networks you can call on: the Law Society In-House Division has about 25,000 members; the Association of Corporate Counsel has 40,000 members and a great monthly magazine, Docket; and for different sectors, there are different legal networks – GC100, GC250, Government Legal Service, Lawyers in Charities, and so on. Many of these are well placed to support the new entrant. Ask for help, and go to the networking meetings.

Have you considered a mentor?

A colleague in another organisation, a senior colleague in your own? You could ask another in-house lawyer from a similar organisation, or a law firm.

Protecting your professional independence

You may go on to work at another organisation. Your professional reputation does not belong to your employer. Of course, you hope that they are never in conflict, but make sure you are familiar with the Principles and Code of Conduct of your profession. And make sure you know where the Ethics line to call is.

Don’t reinvent the wheel

Chances are, someone else has done it somewhere else. Do you need to start that contract from scratch, or can you beg or borrow a good precedent from someone else?

Mapping the moral compass

University College London’s Richard Moorhead and others have looked at the in-house lawyer role for you in “Mapping the Moral Compass: the relationship between in-house lawyers’ role, professional orientations, team cultures, organisational pressures, ethical infrastructure and ethical inclination”. Check it out, and the other publications from their Centre for Ethics and Law.

See also CEPLER, the Centre for Professional Legal Education and Research, at the University of Birmingham, UK.

Well being: look after yourself

In the USA check out The Path to Lawyer Wellbeing.

In the UK check out LawCare, which is supported by the Law Society. If you need help, call the helpline 0800 279 6888.

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