This article is written by Mohona Thakur from Team iPleaders.
The road to law firms is well paved as many of your seniors may have walked it. However, what is the strategy to follow if law firms don’t appeal to you and what you really want to do is work in the in-house legal team of an MNC or a well-known company? What if you want to be a lawyer at Google, Hindustan Unilever or ICICI Bank, all of which pay stellar salaries, better parks and definitely amazing growth opportunities only very few law firms can match?
What does it take to not follow the herd and take the path less taken? How does one strive to make a career as an in-house counsel? How is it different from a job at a law firm? Is it really just a nine-to-five desk job? Does it pay well? Is it worth the effort?
On Thursday, we had one of the longest sessions in the history of our daily webcast, An Hour With LawSikho. We had Mr. Surup Ray Chaudhuri, Corporate Director, Legal at the Taj Group, and a former in-house counsel of Hindustan Unilever as the panelist, and he spoke about what it takes to succeed as an in-house counsel. Since the webcast ran for about two hours, we decided to shorten, edit and distil the magic formula for you. You can also hear it from the horse’s mouth over here.
Here are three skills that will set you apart if you are aiming for an in-house legal job:
Know the business inside out!
At the heart of everything is a genuine understanding of the internal clients business.
A lot of in-house lawyers talk about how adept they are to understanding the business, and to be absolutely fair, I believe some of them do have a good grasp over their internal clients business. However, there are plenty of them who glaze over when they are faced with a situation where they need to identify what is really important for their client.
Here, we are not talking about the legal aspects of the business such as IP ownership, product liability clauses, etc. We are talking about real business issues. What is the difference between a really profitable deal and an average one? What is it going to take to grow the business? What are the business’ pain areas?
Let’s begin with the basics. For any law student aspiring to be an in-house counsel, you need to understand the needs of the business and the business environment that the company thrives on. By the needs of the business, what we mean are the commercial basics – how does it make money, what are the products it sells, what is the profit margin, what are the issues employees facing, what kind of challenges your salespeople face when they go out on the field. As far as the business environment is concerned, it encompasses knowledge revolving around customers, competitors and the supply chain.
Now, for a senior lawyer looking to move in-house, the expectations would be different in terms of knowing the business. He would be particularly expected to have an understanding of the company’s goals and strategy. You may want to know why is it important for a lawyer to understand business strategy? The answer to this question is rather simple. Not only will knowing the business strategy help the in-house legal team perform better, think ahead and assess the legal implications of the same, but it will also allow alignment of legal with business objectives. This in itself is a critical tool in order to maximise the value of the business.
Be the “Jack of all trades”
In-house lawyers have very different deliverables as compared to law firm associates.
While law-firms have a lot of work in terms of volume, most law firms have segregated work departments – real estate, media and entertainment, telecom, trademarks, general corporate, private equity, etc. Hence, unless you are working in a firm that exposes you to a variety of work, you’re stuck specialising in one field of law.
The problem with law-firm roles is that an attorney becomes niched into a particular area of practice, whether it is litigation, contracts or otherwise. To be effective, in-house counsels need to address directly or oversee all legal needs of their company or organization. This means they may need expertise or at least a passing knowledge (to “know what they don’t know and should find out,” as the phrase goes) in commercial matters, corporate governance, employment, litigation, compensation, compliance and risk management, in varying orders and degree.
I believe it is rightly said that in-house counsels are required to be ‘jack of all trades’. In the exact words of Mr. Ray Chaudhuri, as an in-house counsel you do not have the liberty to say no to an M&A transaction deal because you specialise in Intellectual Property, or for that matter not be comfortable doing litigations because you are better at drafting contracts. You can listen to him speak about the necessity of being well-versed in all kinds of laws here.
This would mean that you would have to step out of your comfort zone to advise the business on an unfamiliar area of law so that you can help the business move faster. How do you ensure that as an in-house counsel you are not only up to date with the law, but also the practical applications and implications of it? Internet today is a boon. There are multiple newspapers, legal blogs, courses that deal with the basics as well as practical implementation of all relevant commercial laws are available today that cater to solve this very problem. As a lawyer, it is important to remember that learning never stops!
Keep at it, never let go!
Most law students as well as lawyers lose hope and get disheartened when their applications are rejected or when they do not hear from the interviewer after an interview.
It is important to stick to the struggle, stay true to yourself and not give up. During the almost two-hour long webcast this was a constant – keep at it, do not give up, it will happen. Coming from someone who waited for about a year to hear from Hindustan Unilever, I believe it is a very valuable piece of insight.
It is important for lawyers and law students to engage themselves in legal work, in some form or another, whether it is by way of working with a law firm, pursuing litigation, working with a not-so reputed company. What is important is not where you are working; it is what skill-sets are you picking up from the law firm while pursuing litigation or working with a smaller company. People management, drafting, networking as well as project management are key-skill sets that would find a place in an in-house role.
If you’re super ambitious, follow Mr. RayChaudhri’s advise and start writing articles, engage in blogging, avail online courses and strengthen your knowledge base and increase your resume value!
In case you’d like to watch this entire webcast on An Hour With LawSikho, to know the kind of work that in-house lawyers are required to do on a daily basis and to understand the myth behind why it is considered a considerably relaxed job-profile as compared to a law-firm, you can watch it here.
What are the courses we offer to those who are interested in working as an in-house counsel?
Whether you are a young lawyer looking to move in-house or a law student with an ambition to work for top in-house legal teams, we have some courses for you:
A business law course for in-house counsels covering wide range of issues that companies deal with in different stages of growth cycle. Also relevant if you are interested in working as a business lawyer in a law firm or engage in corporate litigation.
A course for those who want to work at a technology company, fintech and other emerging technology ventures. Also relevant if you want to work with TMT team in any law firm or litigate in this area.
A course for those who want to work for media/entertainment companies or production houses. Also relevant if you want to work with any law firm working on media and entertainment work or litigate in this area.
Those looking to specialize in companies act and corporate governance (a very good area to gain expertise for in-house counsels). Also relevant if you are interested in corporate litigation or general corporate practice of a law firm.