Room at the top for the in-house lawyer

Company legal departments can provide attractive opportunities and high rewards, says Sharon Wallach

The tendency in some quarters to view the in-house lawyer as a poor relation has faded in recent times, and working in-house is perceived by lawyers as an increasingly attractive option.

This is particularly so for recently qualified lawyers, says June Mesrie of the recruitment consultancy Quarry Dougall. First, they recognise the benefits, such as the chance to get closer to the client. Second, she says, people are thinking more about what they want in the longer term and see opportunities in taking the in-house route. "You can only plan as far as the market allows, but having said that, I've noticed that people are thinking their careers through much earlier on."

In recent years some companies have closed their legal departments; in other companies, some of their in-house lawyers have been absorbed into solicitors' firms. Many departments that have remained viable have been wary of becoming too big and being seen as uneconomic on their company's balance sheet. Despite all this, the overall number of lawyers working in commerce and industry has remained largely stable - and since the end of last year, the recruitment market has seen an increase in in-house vacancies, mainly for junior posts - lawyers qualified for two to four years - but also at a more senior level.

Remuneration has not dramatically improved, but fringe benefits far outweigh those in private practice. "Lawyers in private practice may get good contributory or non-contributory pension schemes and private health insurance, but not the care and the other benefits offered by in-house posts," Ms Mesrie says.

Somebody who is second or third in command in a legal department of 10 or 12 people in a large UK company could expect to earn upwards of £70,000. But the new companies springing up, particularly in computers and telecommunications, may employ a sole lawyer in-house for £50,000 to £55,000, plus benefits.

The pluses and minuses of taking the in-house route must be carefully weighed. "If someone is dead set on a partnership but doesn't think he or she will achieve one, that is not a good reason to go in-house," Ms Mesrie says. "It only works if it is seen as a positive move and if the lawyer has a genuine interest in the business he or she is going into." Even candidates for the very top positions have to ask questions such as whether possibilities exist for promotion to board level.

The reverse move, from in-house to private practice, can be more difficult. "You are competing against people who have been in private practice for some time, and who have developed a client following, which firms are keen on," says Ms Mesrie. "But the other side of the coin is that you may have a particular expertise in an industry, and you may bring all or some of your client's work with you."

The most marked trend in in-house work appears to be a shift in emphasis: while many companies employ a legal team for more commercial and specialist activities, they are outsourcing routine work. Three years ago, for example, ICI outsourced all its conveyancing and litigation work. According to its deputy group solicitor, Bob Peters, what remains are the core activities of broad-based commercial work.

This may be the basis for his feeling that the demand for the in-house resource is strengthening. "In-house lawyers enjoy more esteem than was the case a few years ago," he says. "They provide a more focused service that external firms have difficulty matching." Cost, though not the sole consideration, is an important factor.

"The pressure on in-house legal departments is the same as that in other departments in a company, to perform in relation to the bottom line and offer added value to the organisation," says Jyoti Munsiff, company secretary of Shell Transport & Trading and chairwoman of the Law Society's commerce and industry group.

A resident legal team offers the advantage of being "proactive and protective, rather than providing putting-out-the-fire type of advice", she says. "It's too expensive to get it wrong. An in-house team is made up of people who know the business and are on tap, and can provide a structure that may avoid mistakes that would turn out to be more expensive than employing the legal team."

Another head of an in-house team says that a review of the rising cost of outside legal resources resulted in his company employing more lawyers in-house to achieve lower costs overall. "The result has been a team of in-house lawyers who understand the specific needs of our business, and are able to achieve the same results at much lower cost, even allowing for the additional running costs of the department," he says.

Austin Allison of Standard Chartered, the chairman of the Bar Association for Commerce Finance and Industry, speaks of the recognition on the part of in-house lawyers that whatever services they provide must be cost-effective and offer value. "If there ever was a sense that a company had to have a legal department working reactively, it has long since gone," he says.

More and more companies are realising the importance of focusing the efforts of their in-house legal resources. His own department, he says, concentrates on issues of major legal principle as they affect the company, and manages the legal aspects of major corporate events such as mergers and acquisitions. It also manages major litigation and provides the board with anticipatory legal advice on important issues.

Mr Allison adds that a big function of any in-house department is to ensure that any work outsourced is done to high standards and is cost- effective. "We have made significant savings in terms of cost control," he says. "And on the quality side, we are ensuring a better and more informed selection of external lawyers."

In-house lawyers are still highly valued, he says, "The best use of them is made when their efforts are focused and the scope of their objectives are clearly agreed with senior management. An unfocused attempt to be all things to all men in the organisation just doesn't work."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
Arts and Entertainment
Poet’s corner: Philip Larkin at the venetian window of his home in 1958
booksOr caring, playful man who lived for others? A new book has the answer
Arts and Entertainment
Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Metz - 23 May 2012
Matthew McConaughey and his son Levi at the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Houston Astros at Fenway Park on August 17, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts.
advertisingOscar-winner’s Lincoln deal is latest in a lucrative ad production line
Life and Style
Pick of the bunch: Sudi Pigott puts together roasted tomatoes with peppers, aubergines and Labneh cheese for a tomato-inspired vegetarian main dish
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Support, Help desk)

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Learning, SQL, Brokerage)

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Lea...

UNIX Application Support Analyst- Support, UNIX, London

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: UNIX Application Support Analyst-...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape