Making the Switch to In-House Counsel

Billable hours, timesheets and work/life balance are just some of the reasons lawyers leave private practice for an in-house counsel role. It’s not for everyone, but it may be the next logical step in your career.

Making the transition to corporate counsel takes a level of self-awareness, as well as the right skills and resources. If you’re considering a move in-house, here are some items you’ll need in your survival kit.

A specialist skill set

Corporations seek in-house legal professionals based on their specialised areas of practice. If you have a background in capital raising and prospectus work, then a listed company may be the perfect fit.

Similarly, if you have a strong compliance or litigation background, your skills may be suited to a debt collection or contract enforcement team.

Meanwhile, transactional lawyers may find their niche working for multinational property developers, financial services companies and stockbroking firms.

Understanding your personal skill set and value proposition is the first step in making the right move to an in-house legal role.

An up-to-date repository of forms and precedents

While having the right skill set is one thing, being able to quickly execute a task in the most efficient and legally effective way possible is something else entirely. An up-to-date toolkit of relevant procedures, regulations and rules, precedents and forms is essential in helping you deliver your best work on time and within budget.

Many in-house legal professionals build this arsenal using both their experience (what has worked for them in the past) together with modern legal technology solutions such as legal templates, precedents and checklists to ensure their work remains current and accurate.

Tristan Ng, Senior Legal Counsel at an Australian oil and gas company, says that having an up-to-date repository of forms and precedents is essential to good business.

“Standard forms provide a high degree of certainty and transparency with contractual terms and requisite compliance standards,” he says.

“If applied equally to all contracting parties, these forms could expedite the contract negotiation process; as the parties can expect to have a level playing field,” he adds.

Seamless billing and practice procedures

Regardless of whether you work as the sole in-house counsel or as part of a large team, you need a way to manage your time and report your work completed, in progress and outstanding.

While many firms have their own processes for legal tracking and reporting, modern software gives in-house professionals a method of seamlessly fulfilling their obligations while contributing to the overall strategic direction of the company. Legal tracker software enables corporate counsel to set and report on budgets, receive and process invoices, track expenditure, record works in progress, ascertain the status of current matters and review progress by matter, sector and as a whole.

An intuitive mind

Experience comes with time, but knowledge is something you can actively gain right now. If you’re considering making the transition to corporate counsel, find out how you can bolster your specialist skill set.

This can include:

  • Specialist memberships such as industry accreditations.
  • Subscriptions to relevant online and print industry publications.
  • Building your industry network through face-to-face events, seminars and trade shows.
  • Using your continued legal professional education to boost your knowledge in ‘weaker’ areas, not just your strengths.
  • Staying up-to-date on current affairs via news and media, including social media.

A big picture mentality

One of the benefits of working in-house is contributing to the overall strategic direction of an organisation.

According to Rachel Launders, General Counsel and Company Secretary of Nine Entertainment Co. Holdings Ltd: “The work gives lawyers an opportunity to be part of a building or growing a business. There’s something tangible that you can see if a deal goes well, and you can think ‘I helped make that happen’.”

With the right preparation, self-evaluation and resources, you can ensure your transition to corporate in-house legal counsel is seamless, purposeful and rewarding.

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