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In-house lawyers 'should avoid team mentality'

Posted by: Laurence Simons 24/12/12

It might be easy to forget but people with in-house legal jobs just want to be loved like everyone else. As the nights draw in and the weather gets colder, they yearn for the warm certainties of office life - for easy badinage around the water-cooler and dutiful football banter exchanged in the kitchen.

However, founder and the chief executive officer of Consero Paul Mandell - who is himself a former practicing lawyer - has warned that in-house legal staff need to retain a degree of independence from the business they work for if they are to offer effective advice.

A number of recent studies have suggested that lawyers in this role tend to be given an increasing level of responsibility within companies, encouraged to help form strategy and forming an integral part of the leadership team.

This is often attributed to the increasingly tangled regulatory net facing global companies, which has made the role of in-house legal experts especially crucial.

While this has been welcomed by in-house staff tired of being considered the poor cousins of their private practice counterpart, Mr Mandell has warned that getting too close to the process can prevent lawyers from giving prescient and unbiased advice.

Writing for Law, he said: "As lawyers are drawn ever deeper into the fold of corporate management, they must keep in mind their primary function - helping the company mitigate legal risk - and avoid adopting a team mentality."

He expressed the opinion that the broadening function of in-house lawyers is a positive step, but nevertheless one that should be considered with caution.

"If the lawyer seeks to be 'part of the team' at the expense of thoughtful analysis of legal risk, the company may lose the protection for which the lawyer was hired in the first place," explained Mr Mandell.

While this doesn't necessarily mean in-house legal staff need to drop out of the Secret Santa chain immediately and aren't allowed to get a round in when everyone goes out for a festive drink, it does mean they are being forced to juggle more roles than ever before while remaining clearheaded about their position at a company.

Fortunately, this has been reflected in their remuneration, with a recent report revealing that 69 per cent of in-house lawyers in the US saw their compensation levels grow over the course of 2012.

The HBR Law Department Survey found that the average salary recorded had increased by 3.3 per cent year-on-year.