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.
Following our recent article ("Five key benefits of an in-house lawyer over a private practice lawyer"), we can bring you even more benefits of an in-house legal team from this US based article which has been brought to our attention by one of our freelance in-house lawyers:
The article, written last May by, Christine S. Johnson, the general counsel of, Dickey’s Barbecue Restaurants, a franchise of barbeque fast food restaurants in the United States, eloquently supports the notion of having an in house team.
This element in particular resonated with us:
"Any in-house legal team spends a significant amount of time drafting legal documents and providing traditional legal advice, but the skill set found in most qualified legal staff (e.g. being organized, detail oriented, and capable of creative problem solving) is often useful to other departments within the company. Lawyers and other legal staff are often happy to take an active role in managing large scale projects company-wide and are typically not intimidated by the need to produce quality results within an aggressive timeline."
In house lawyers – sometimes referred to as 'in house counsel' – have numerous advantages over private practice lawyers; in this article, we lay out some of the key advantages (in no particular order).
In house lawyers are more commercial
Private practice lawyers have a reputation for being too cautious and their advice often involves a black or white analysis of the law. Of course, many businesses, particularly small businesses, need solutions instead of blockers and require a more commercial approach. In-house lawyers tend to be significantly more commercial in their outlook than private practice lawyers as a result of the fact that they are embedded within a company, they understand that 'no' is not a viable answer in the majority of situations and that, for a lawyer to give maximum value to a company, a healthy degree of commercial outlook is needed.
A significant benefit of an in-house lawyer is cost effectiveness. Private practice firms tend to be either enormous entities which have vast infrastructure which needs to be paid for through high fees, or they are small high street firms which don't have the breadth of knowledge of an in-house lawyer. Costs can also rise steeply in private practice depending upon the specific legal work involved. If you are a company which already uses private practice solicitors for general commercial work, have a look at the billable hours for your external lawyers, you are likely to find that those sums fall dramatically if you use in-house lawyers, and further still if you use an HPLpro freelance in-house lawyer.
As an in-house lawyer gains more experience from working within companies they also gain more experience of both the industry and the specific business. It is extremely difficult to obtain that kind of advanced knowledge of the specifics of a company from a private practice position. This is vital, as the advice of any lawyer will be shaped by their understanding, or lack of it, of your business.
In-house lawyers are excellent at identifying risks and the more depth of knowledge a lawyer has in respect of your business the more risks they can identify and deal with. Often, the first time that a small/medium sized business or start-up involves a lawyer is when something has already gone wrong, which oftentimes is way too late, whereas an in-house lawyer can proactively spot and resolve issues prior to there being a problem.
In-house lawyers tend to have more breadth of knowledge than private practice lawyers and this is due to the fact that they are exposed to all and any legal issues that arise for a company, be they related to regulation, legislation, mergers and acquisitions, litigation, contracts and so on. This means that having an in-house lawyer is a bit like having ten private practice lawyers rolled in to one!