Transitions of the In-House Bar


Transitions of the In-House Bar

The In-House Bar has experienced unprecedented change; a quiet yet impactful shift in the last few years with more lawyers leaving private practice for In-House practice. Organizations began developing internal legal teams and, in many sectors, legal departments now employ more lawyers who perform legal work formerly done by external lawyers. This has strengthened organizational capacity, reduced legal costs, and led to better legal advice from internal colleagues who understand the business. These are benefits of the unique role of In-House Counsel who work as business advisors and ensure decisions are legally and ethically sound.

Naturally, at some point, In-House Counsel may consider transitioning to a non-legal role, such as to chief operating officer, chief executive officer, or to a hybrid role aligned with legal, such as chief compliance officer, chief procurement officer, or corporate secretary. When considering a transition, evaluating one’s skills as business advisor is key because that role provides the understanding of what the organization does, what needs to be protected, what future risks may arise, and how to provide alternative solutions when needed. The fact that In-House Counsel immerse themselves in the business of an organization, means they have the ideal skillset to make such a transition.

The following preparation and planning aspects should be considered when contemplating a transition to more of a business role:

  • Seek opportunities to engage in projects beyond legal areas and build strong relationships within the organization from a business first perspective — this shows that you are willing and ready
    to transition.
  • Think about why you want to transition: what business aspects interest you? For many lawyers, it is the legal aspect of their work that is most fulfilling, so be clear on what makes a non-legal or hybrid role attractive. Impact, new challenges, career change, or compensation are some of the
    key attractions.
  • Will you transition to a non-legal or hybrid role at the same organization where you are In-House Counsel? Consider conflicts that may arise, and clarify that you are no longer the lawyer for the organization. A consultation with the In-House legal team would be important, and if concerns remain, consider moving to a different organization.
  • Evaluate your skills, including business skills, for the role you want, such as: financial planning; integrated risk management; people management; etc. and develop them. To gain skills, consider a secondment in a similar role or join a board.
  • Also assess the risk orientation of the role you want in relation to your own approach to risk. Many non-legal roles require willingness to take risk for the sake of a business outcome, whereas legal roles are often about reducing risk.
  • Remember that technology is a business skill: COVID-19 has accelerated technology use and expectations and there is more integration of technology into broader business solutions so develop your technology skills to stay current and get ahead of the curve.
  • Seek guidance from those you trust, including the Canadian Corporate Counsel Association (“CCCA”) and members of the Bar. Speak with colleagues who transitioned to non-legal or hybrid roles — there is much value in the voice of experience.
  • If you transition to a non-legal role, the door stays open to return to the practice of law, however the longer you are outside law, the less likely it is you will return. You will also need to let go of the legal analysis, so self-assess and determine if a hybrid role would be more fulfilling for you.

Finally, remember in 2022 careers are flexible. If you want to transition, plan and prepare, seek support and ignore rigid views about the limits of In-House Counsel — the facts speak for themselves, In-House Counsel careers today have unlimited possibilities!