Posted in Blog on 1 Feb 2021
This is not always imperative to the role, but experience in the sector always gives candidates a competitive edge as it demonstrates understanding of the challenges within the industry, and the processes that other stakeholders in the business may experience. If you have knowledge of the law within that specific sector, so much the better.
Don’t assume this means you need to have worked in-house in said sector. Lots of good lawyers move in-house from private practice where they have picked up great experience working for clients across all sectors.
One of the biggest challenges a new company lawyer may have is convincing the business that they are a value-added resource instead of a cost to the business, particularly if the in-house function is new or at an embryonic stage internally. In our experience, legal professionals who add tangible value by contributing to business strategy or offering ideas that may save the business time, money or resources in the long run, will stand out from their counterparts.
As not all businesses are blessed with the budget to be able to hire an in-house legal team the size of an entire national law firm, it’s quite common that moving in-house means joining a small sized team of lawyers. As a result of this, the broader your legal knowledge across various practice areas, the more valuable you can become.
Whilst not true in all cases, the bulk of in-house work tends to be considered as general commercial work (contracts, agreements, deals, data protection, IP etc…). Secondary is corporate (mergers & acquisitions, private equity, corporate finance etc…). Lawyers with wider experience however (e.g. property/construction, employment, litigation), will add further value to the business and potentially negate the need to spend on external lawyers in future.
When joining a larger in-house team, this sometimes offer the chance to be more specialist and focus on wider practice areas outside of general commercial work.
Those who have worked across different jurisdictions and/or speak other languages will all go some way towards making an in-house lawyer an invaluable resource.
And, whilst businesses will initially look at a candidates existing skills and experience, those who demonstrate they are continually willing to learn and develop through CPD courses and potential new qualifications, will thrive, whilst also giving the business’ clients, customers & 3rd parties confidence that they are dealing with an industry expert.
Top of the wish list for the Clients we work with is the need for In-house lawyers to be able to demonstrate strong commercial acumen and business sense. Businesses often get frustrated with legal professionals who just quote ‘the law’ and aren’t open minded to the business’ strategies. A good In-house Lawyer needs to be able to not only understand the business that they operate in but be skilled enough to persuade other stakeholders about their stance at any given time and communicate the impact on the wider business if their advice is not heeded. A general awareness of their own appetite to risk is beneficial in such circumstances.
Depending on a business’s attitude towards legal professionals, it is important that lawyers are seen as facilitators to the business and not blockers. A good in-house lawyer will see themselves as a business partner who doesn’t purely provide problems, but someone who is able to provide solutions! Some businesses may not have had a legal function previously or their legal function doesn’t have the internal buy-in it requires – This is when being a solution provider/business facilitator can really benefit you.
Whilst only applicable in some cases, Lawyers who undertake business development opportunities to support growth strategies are regarded highly – whether this is in bringing new customers on board or looking into other marketable opportunities.
In-house Lawyers often have to liaise with individuals at all levels within an organisation - from Senior Directors to front line sales staff; encountering difficult discussions with the CEO one day, to enforcing a legally based decision with sales reps the next. It’s therefore vital to build rapport and relationships with all stakeholders to encourage necessary buy-in to legal advice and judgement.
The ability to handle and manage a panel of external lawyers, acknowledging when specialist advice is required and sometimes battling for a commercial win for the business when it’s required is a hugely beneficial skill to have, and once again, will prove immensely valuable to the business, and cement your role within it.