Inhouse Counsel Versus Law Firms: A Comparison
As lawyers grow in experience and progress in their career, they are inevitably faced with the question whether to continue with their practice within law firms in India or make a transition towards an in-house role. Many lawyers are often caught in this dilemma and it’s not an easy decision to make. There are number of factors that need to be considered before taking a decision.
It is difficult to decide when to make this transition. Over the years in practice in top law firms in India, a lawyer builds up relationships with clients, colleagues and other staff. The whole work environment changes if you shift to an in-house role. There would generally be fixed work hours and the challenge would be to quickly adapt to the new culture. But the truth is that there is no right time to make this transition. Leaving your previous clients and colleagues would definitely hurt, but there are newer horizons to conquer. So as long as you are willing to give yourself sufficient time to adapt to the new role, it is perfectly alright to take the leap into the corporate world.
Area of Practice
Most in-house roles for lawyers in India are routine work- government compliance, transactions and contracts etc. Intellectual property and employment laws are few areas which are common with general practice. Litigations are few and far apart. In larger organizations litigations might happen more frequently. But even there, you have to follow instructions from the management. These are some limitations of an in-house counsel which often dissuade lawyers from taking up this position.
Taking up the in-house role can potentially change the career trajectory of many lawyers as it may come with added managerial responsibilities. One is likely to be exposed to organizational compliance and regulations, inner working structure of a particular industry, and opportunities to rub shoulders with professionals from outside the legal field. This is not common even in the best law firms in India; very rarely does a lawyer get these kinds opportunities to enhance their knowledge and skills and grow professionally. This career enhancement aspect opens the window for promotions within and outside the legal department, and also to seek better opportunities in other organisations.
There is no limit on the earning potential at legal firms in India so it is hard to justify the transition of lawyers into in-house roles with a fixed salary. But when you take into account additional benefits like health insurance, bonuses, stock options, and other long term benefits, the in-house role may seem more lucrative. A successful general counsel attorney once said, “A salary pays the bills, but bonuses and deferred compensation pay for college and build wealth.” However strong an argument this statement may be in favour of in-house counsel, per hour earning potential at law firms in India will always outweigh this argument.
Whereas lawyers are the revenue drivers within law firms and responsible for the firm’s turnover, in a company lawyers are just perceived as facilitators or service providers. They have nothing to do with the company’s core business, that is, their role is limited to ensuring the business operates within the ambit of the law and that all regulatory requirements are complied with. Other than that, their services are required only when some specific legal issues arise. This is a major shift in the role of a lawyer as compared to that within a law firm. It is a huge challenge for someone who had often been in charge without much interference. Job satisfaction can often become an issue for in-house lawyers. Furthermore, how the legal community perceives the role of an internal attorney is a matter of concern.
Generally, attorneys are risk averse, or if not all, a majority of them are. Taking up in-house role can be a risky proposition as stability and continuity are important aspects of career growth. It has become increasingly common for today’s workforce to frequently change jobs, especially in the corporate sector. To what extent this trend has affected the legal profession is matter of conjecture. However, experienced lawyers can do their own calculations to figure out where they stand and decide for themselves what role would best suit them.
Whatever be the factors under consideration, the decision to make a transition from law firms in India to in-house position can be quite cumbersome. However, there is no right or wrong choice, and it’s an individual decision based on personal needs and expectations.
Amy Jones is a legal advisor at Ahlawat & Associates – legal firm in India. She has vast experience in creative and legal writing.