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US in-house legal jobs 'opening up to foreign lawyers'

Posted by: Laurence Simons 12/02/13

It could become easier for foreign lawyers to take on in-house legal jobs in the US, following a new resolution approved by the American Bar Association (ABA) House of Delegates which would offer them limited authority within the role.

Resolution 107A is among a series of proposed amendments to the ABA model ethics rules that acknowledge the globalisation of law practice by easing the regulations on how in-house counsel are hired in the country.

A related resolution, 107B, requires registration for foreign lawyers working within in-house legal positions.

However, foreign legal professionals will still not be able to give advice on US laws unless they choose to consult with their American counterparts before doing so.

Seven states already expressly permit foreign lawyers to work as in-house lawyers in their clients' US offices, but this new move could make it more likely that people from different countries will move into American internal positions.

While the ABA has taken typical measures to ensure this change in policy is couched in the dullest possible language, it could be quite exciting news for legal professionals thinking of taking the advice of Horace Greeley and going west to seek their fortune.

The current system is often seen as confusing, especially because it differs so widely across the states, and this shift could be important in terms of standardising the system to some extent.

Especially with in-house legal jobs becoming more popular and prestigous, and the globalisation of the workforce ensuring that lawyers are more likely to practice in different countries around the world, it is likely this is not the last we will hear about how in-house counsel in the US are regulated over the coming years.

Lawyers aren't keen to make the move to the US purely because of the dazzling prospect of eating burgers the size of their heads or learning how to corral cattle with a noose - a major motivating factor is likely to be the impressive amount of clout many American general counsels have with business executives.

Harvard Business Review's Ben Heineman Jr noted last year that in-house lawyers are making serious gains on their counterparts in Biglaw.

"The general counsel is now a core member of the top management team and offers advice not just on law and related matters but helps shape discussion and debate about business issues," he explained, suggesting this process is set to continue over the coming years.