What does an In-House Legal Counsel do?

Many people ask me what I do all day working in an in-house legal department. Often the function of an in-house legal department isn’t immediately obvious. And even if it is, people frequently underestimate the variety of work available. It’s a dreadful shame that law graduates and legal professionals either do not know of in-house legal functions or have misconceptions about it. As a result, some inadvertently close themselves off from very interesting and exciting opportunities.

I hope to dispel some of these misconceptions and inspire more people to move in-house by sharing some of the many things I do working in an in-house legal department. Please note that these are just examples from my experience – every in-house legal function will be different. 

1. Draft and Negotiate Contracts

My employer is a software supplier. Therefore, the majority of my work revolves around drafting and negotiating contracts with customers. We do have standard agreements to an extent. However, sometimes something non-standard is agreed which needs to be reflected and drafted in the applicable contract. Particularly, amendments need to be drafted from scratch. 

Many customers do not simply accept our standard agreements as they are but wish to negotiate certain provisions. Depending on the parties, negotiations can take hours and weeks and months. Negotiating requires a lot of skill and thinking on your feet. In my opinion this takes years to perfect. 

There is a vast variety of agreements that may require drafting and/or negotiating. You might be working on finance agreements, data processing agreements, consultancy agreements, etc. 

2. Advise on Existing Contracts

Sometimes it is easier to reuse existing agreements than agree a new one. In those cases, we need to review the existing agreement to ensure there aren’t any terms in there which we can no longer adhere to. 

Furthermore, sometimes the parties might be in disagreement about the provision of the product and/or service in question. In those case, we need to refer to the governing agreement to check what the parties’ contractual rights and obligations are to one another. 

3. Impact of Legislation

Laws can require businesses to do certain things. Sometimes the laws change which will impact how we do business. Brexit is a good example – the departure of the UK from the European Union has and will invariably change the legal landscape and hence, impact UK businesses. We have to map the changes that will impact us and ensure that we do not have to change how we do business after Brexit. 

Other areas that are often important for in-house legal teams are employment, corporate (e.g., company secretarial work), and intellectual property. As an in-house legal professional, you must always keep an eye out on any legislative changes that might impact your business. 

4. Legal Compliance

This results due to 3. above. It is one thing to check and advise on in-coming and existing legislation, it is another to implement those laws and ensure your business’s processes reflect them continuously.

For example, the UK Modern Slavery Act 2015 requires certain organisations to publish a statement on an annual basis. To remain compliant with the law, it is necessary to publish a new statement each year. You will need to ensure that there are processes in place that remind you of any tasks that need to be repeated to remain legally compliant.

This is just a snapshot of some of the things you may find yourself working on in an in-house legal department. An in-house role can include much, much more. It can be very hands-on and often, no two days are the same. As always, if you have any questions about working in-house, please do not hesitate to contact me. 

Leave a Comment