Understanding (And Thriving In) The Role Of An In-House Lawyer

in-house counsel teamIt takes a special person to work in-house as a lawyer. First and foremost, you need the drive and passion to handle everything that comes your way, from providing business teams with legal support to managing your caseload. Plus, this unique position requires you to juggle multiple priorities and deadlines at once without losing your cool.

What Is An In-House Lawyer?

An in-house lawyer is a professional who works within a company or organization, providing legal support to the business. Unlike private practice lawyers who work for law firms, in-house lawyers are employed directly by the businesses in which they work.

The role of an in-house lawyer can vary considerably depending on the size of the company as well as the company’s industry. However, some elements are found in different iterations of the role. In-house lawyers typically:

  • Provide legal advice and support to internal clients on a range of issues
  • Conduct legal research and analysis
  • Draft, review, and negotiate contracts and other legal documents
  • Manage and coordinate external legal resources
  • Oversee litigation and dispute resolution processes
  • Develop and implement corporate compliance programs
  • Provide training to employees on legal and compliance issues

What Skills Do You Need to Be An In-House Lawyer?

In-house lawyers need a broad range of skills to be successful. Yes, they must be knowledgeable in the law, but they also need strong commercial acumen and the ability to communicate effectively with colleagues outside of the legal profession.

Some of the specific skills crucial to success as an in-house lawyer include:

  • Strong analytical and research skills
  • Excellent written and verbal communication skills
  • The ability to summarize complex legal issues for nonlegal colleagues
  • Commercial awareness and business acumen
  • Sound judgment and the ability to take calculated risks
  • Great organization and time management skills
  • The ability to work both independently and as part of a team
  • Flexibility and the ability to adapt to change

If you’re thinking of making a move to in-house work, then it’s important to make sure you have the skills and attributes required for the role. However, if you’re lacking in some areas, don’t let that dissuade you. Many of these skills can be developed through training and research.

How Do You Become An In-House Lawyer?

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, as the path will vary depending on your circumstances. However, some general tips may be useful:

  • Start your career in private practice. Many in-house lawyers begin their careers in the private practice field, working for a law firm. This is a great way to gain experience while developing your legal skills.
  • Look for secondments and contract work. Secondment opportunities or contract work with businesses can give you a taste of what it’s like to work in-house, helping you decide if it’s the right career move for you.
  • Network. Connect with other in-house lawyers, either through LinkedIn or professional organizations such as the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC). Attend industry events and conferences, and make sure your CV is up to date so that you’re ready to seize any opportunities that come your way.

Moving to in-house work can be a big decision, but it has many rewards. If you’re looking for a challenging and rewarding career, then in-house work is definitely worth considering.

For more information on pursuing an in-house role, check out the “Notes to My (Legal) Self” podcast episode with Kevin Keller. In this episode, Kevin discusses alternative in-house paths and shares his top tips for making this career transition.


Olga MackOlga V. Mack is the CEO of Parley Pro, a next-generation contract management company that has pioneered online negotiation technology. Olga embraces legal innovation and had dedicated her career to improving and shaping the future of law. She is convinced that the legal profession will emerge even stronger, more resilient, and more inclusive than before by embracing technology. Olga is also an award-winning general counsel, operations professional, startup advisor, public speaker, adjunct professor, and entrepreneur. She founded the Women Serve on Boards movement that advocates for women to participate on corporate boards of Fortune 500 companies. She authored Get on Board: Earning Your Ticket to a Corporate Board Seat and Fundamentals of Smart Contract Security. You can follow Olga on Twitter @olgavmack.

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