Why former in-house lawyers can make excellent external legal advisers

Historically, lawyers left law firms to pursue legal careers in industry and tended not to return to private practice. Possibly due to the inevitably flat structure of some in-house legal teams and the lifestyle benefits of being one’s own boss, I have noticed an increasing trend of in-house lawyers returning to the “dark side” and becoming freelancers or setting up their own law firms. This was a path I chose in late 2017 and one I can highly recommend – notwithstanding the initial shock of losing my guaranteed income! With Covid-19 and the recent relaxation of Law Society regulations relating to freelancers, there is every reason to suggest that this trend will continue.

In-house lawyers returning to private practice have a lot to offer. Here is my take on why this prior industry experience can be invaluable to clients:-

  • In-house lawyers are used to dealing with matters from start to end and are immersed in the world of their “employer client” on a day to day basis.  As such, they gain an excellent insight  into and mastery of their industry sector.
  • Experience gained at the “coal face” allows them to tailor and align their advice extremely closely to the key interests, working style and key stakeholders within their employer.
  • In-house lawyers are good at “fire-fighting”.  Trust me I have the scars to show for it! They are expected to get up to speed quickly with and cover a lot of different and complex issues and, as such, they develop the ability to think on their feet and tend to be extremely versatile.
  • Their advice is often very user friendly and concise. This is due to knowing that their internal clients are extremely busy and have no desire to receive lengthy and detailed letters of advice, much of which they know will never be read. I used to proceed on the basis that if my clients were going to have to use the scroll bar when reading an email message, that message was probably never going to be fully read!

What is also invariably the case is that, given their low cost base, freelancers and smaller law firms are typically able to charge themselves out at a considerably lower rate than larger firms which cannot be overlooked at a time when many in house legal teams are under pressure to reduce their external spend.

Before returning to private practice in 2017, I spent 17 years working in house. Having worked for an oil major, utility, investment bank and trading house,  I was fortunate to gain a deep insight into understanding how clients operate and how they want legal advice to be presented. This experience has proved invaluable.

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