Commercial nous as important as legal skills for in-house lawyers, research suggests

The role of in-house lawyers is expanding beyond its traditional focus on legal work to include an increased focus on business issues, new research has revealed.

The research, produced by legal resourcing consultancy FreshMinds Legal in partnership with the Global Leaders in Law forum, surveyed UK heads of legal and general counsel at FTSE350 and other similar companies.

The survey found that eighty-six per cent of GCs and heads of legal believed that within the next three years, the business skills of in-house lawyers would be as important to their role as their legal skills.

Participants cited a growing focus on the business strategy and management aspects of their role, reporting that 62 per cent of their average day was now focused on management and business strategy, while just 38 per cent is spent on legal work.

The research, ‘In-house teams: trends & challenges’, suggests that this will be a growing trend. Eighty-three per cent of participants predicted that over the next three years GCs and their teams would be spending an increased proportion of time on business strategy and advice. Participants noted that this shift was having a significant impact on the skills required of in-house lawyers.

Despite this, only 14 per cent of participants classed leadership skills as ‘crucial’ when hiring mid-career lawyers into their teams at 3-8 years PQE.

“The lack of emphasis placed on the need for leadership skills in new mid-level recruits is interesting given the apparent consensus amongst GCs that the business advisory element of the in-house role is a growing one,” said Roshana Gammampila, head of FreshMinds Legal and the former head of one of the in-house legal teams at Save the Children. “Some might suggest that the reason for this is that, of the many lawyers who enter the in-house career path, only a very small minority are destined to one day hold the ‘top job’.

“I believe that the answer lies elsewhere – in the historic perception that, though in-house legal is a highly skilled function, it is far removed from the business decisions of an organisation. As our research shows, GCs and their teams are now very much at the heart of a business’s strategic decision making process. It is no longer good enough for GCs and their teams to just be good lawyers – they need to be good leaders as well.”