We have been asked to give a brief explanation of what an in-house lawyer actually is and an explanation of some of the language used to describe lawyers.
Let us start with the word 'lawyer' itself, which, simply put, is a reference to anyone who works in and around the law and can include: solicitors, barristers, attorney (US), paralegals, judges, conveyancers, legal executives and so on, with the difference between these being the types of qualification that they have, the type of work that they do and, sometimes, the country that they work in. We will explain some of those types of lawyer below.
What is a solicitor? What does a solicitor do?
A solicitor is an individual who has a certain qualification (in the UK this is currently called the Legal Practice Course) and has taken an apprenticeship known as a training contract. Once passing the training contract, the solicitor is deemed to have been accepted 'on to the roll' of solicitors. Solicitors in the UK are regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (http://www.sra.org.uk/home/home.page ) and their industry body is called the Law Society. You can search for any person who is a qualified solicitor using the Law Society's 'find a solicitors' search function: http://solicitors.lawsociety.org.uk/. Solicitors work in many different fields (company law, business law, commercial law, wills & probate, family law, criminal law and so on) and in legal firms that vary greatly in size from international law firms to tiny local law firms (known as 'high street' law firms given their common location in small towns and villages). By law, certain types of work are reserved exclusively to solicitors and it is illegal to impersonate a solicitor or perform the work that is reserved to solicitors. A solicitor will, very often, have direct contact with their clients. The traditional image of a solicitor was of an old man sat in a dusty office, up to his eyeballs in books, folders and papers. The modern solicitor is far from that and is more likely to be a young woman working in a shiny office block than a dusty study.
What is a barrister? What does a barrister do?
You may be familiar with Barristers (not to be confused with a Barista) as they are the people who are depicted as wearing the wigs and gowns and who represent the sides of a case in court. Barristers, unlike solicitors, very often do not have direct contact with their clients. Indeed, a barrister is often sourced by a solicitor to work on behalf of the client of the solicitor. Barristers have a similar path to qualification to solicitors, save that in the UK their exams are called the Bar Examination, their apprenticeship is called a Pupillage and, upon qualifying, they are 'called to the Bar'. The representative body for Barristers in the UK is called the Bar Council. Unlike solicitors (who have to obtain an additional qualification), barristers automatically have what are called higher rights of audience which means that they can speak in the highest courts in the land. As a result of their sometimes-theatrical court appearances, we liken them to highly intelligent thespians.
What about attorneys, paralegals and the others?
We do not have the space to go into detail about all other types of lawyers in this article, save to say that in the US there is not the same distinction between solicitors and barristers in the way that happens in the UK, they simply have 'attorneys', which are essentially an amalgam of solicitors and barristers.
Legal Executives carry out similar tasks to solicitors but have a different qualification route, they emerged out of the 19th century practice of having clerks in solicitors firms for certain areas of work.
A paralegal is someone who is not qualified as a solicitor or a barrister but nevertheless operates in the legal field, the National Association of Licensed Paralegals (http://www.nationalparalegals.co.uk/what_is_a_paralegal ) describes them thusly: " A Paralegal is a person qualified through education and training to perform substantive legal work that requires knowledge of the law and procedures but who is not a qualified solicitor, barrister or chartered legal executive. Paralegals may work for, or be retained by solicitors within the legal profession or they may work within a legal environment within commerce, industry or the public sector."
So that explains the lawyer bit, but what does the 'in-house' part of 'in-house lawyer' mean?
Most lawyers that you will encounter will work in what is commonly called a lawyers 'practice' (hence the phrase 'private practice'), which is a business that provides legal work for the general public. You may also hear them referred to as 'external lawyers' as they are external to a company. The lawyer (or lawyers) in that private practice can, and will, work for numerous different clients and customers; those lawyers are not normally dedicated to one particular client. See our article on some of the differences between in-house and private practice lawyers.
An in-house lawyer is a lawyer who works for just the one client, normally a company but it could also be a governmental department. Traditionally an in-house lawyer is a lawyer who is employed directly by a company just like any other employee. At HPLpro, we are taking the concept of an in-house lawyer one step further by embedding freelance lawyers into companies instead of employees (see our Services here). In respect of the type of lawyers who become in-house lawyers, most in house lawyers in the UK are solicitors.
In respect of other terms used to describe in-house lawyers you will also see the phrases, 'in-house counsel', 'general counsel' , 'head of legal', 'legal VP', 'legal manager', 'contracts manager' and so on and so forth – we will explain what those terms mean in a later article!
Feel free to leave a comment if you have any thoughts on the above.