What is the key difference working in-house and in a law firm…?

This is a pretty important question if you are contemplating a move from one to the other; or trying to make sense of the feelings you have now that you have taken that leap…and just as important if you are simply trying to forge a decent working relationship between lawyers in-house and externally.

I won’t use this short blog to make the obvious points…but I would like to dive into the psychology of the different roles and why it can undo people in the early stages of their new in-house career.

In a law firm you are valued for making rain (a slightly odd concept for a British lawyer…one seems to have an abundance of damp in one’s life, but no doubt the term is meant to denote the importance of rain to the cycle of life  – or something!)

Anyway…rain makers make activity; they generate work and build out the opportunity to bill more. In short, the busier you are the more revered you become…Activity, activity, activity is all you have to focus on.

Do the hours, submit the bills, do more hours.

What is more, the busier you get the more you can leverage your colleagues. No matter how busy you become it will not matter; there is a seemingly limitless resource to help you; and all the while you are LOVED by your colleagues.

Then you move in-house and you will bounce through the first few weeks like a new puppy and your colleagues will love you too.

Bring me your problems and all your matters, nothing is too much trouble… “I would LOVE to help” is all you have to say…and the work will tumble towards you like an avalanche of email and paper.

…And then you will kill yourself trying to do it

No associates to leverage, no back up resources, not much of a library, few precedents, no budget to go outside, systems that grind to a halt for anything out of the norm…

This is death by a thousand unmet expectations.

You see, in-house you are not valued for creating activity, but for first managing it, then prioritising it and then reducing it. The less work you have to do yourself – by putting in place process design, self help tools, training or simply taking a sensible view on risk – the better. It will be a structure as a result with more resilience, less dependency and more aligned to the profit and loss of your business.

It will free you then to focus on the things that properly matter and not to silt up under the burden of low risk, repetitive, and unending work…

You will still be busy – heaven knows you will be busy – but unless you can prioritise, reduce, manage activity you are sunk.  

So if you move in-house you must forget all you ever knew about being a rain maker…you are now flood defences and chief mopper upper.

Paul Gilbert

Paul Gilbert is Chief Executive of LBC Wise Counsel the UK based specialist management and skills training consultancy for lawyers. www.lbcwisecounsel.com