Broadly speaking, Lawyers and other legal professionals can be separated into two groups depending on their employer. In-House Counsel – also known as Legal Counsel, In-House Legal Counsel and In-House Lawyers – are the type that carry out legal work directly for their employer, as opposed to law firm or private practice Lawyers who earn money for their firm by working on behalf of multiple clients.
We are sometimes asked “Is a Legal Counsel a Lawyer?” – and the answer is yes. In-House Counsel are usually qualified Solicitors just like those working in a law firm.
All In-House Counsel are Lawyers who work directly for a business or organisation, but the specifics of each In-House Legal Counsel role vary greatly depending on their employer. Businesses of all sectors and sizes require legal advice and risk management, so an In-House Counsel may find themselves working as part of a team of 30 lawyers for an international organisation but could equally be the sole legal advisor of a start-up fintech.
Depending on the size of your employer and the budget they have available to spend on legal, an In-House Counsel role will fit one of the following descriptions.
- In-House Counsel
Known also as a Legal Counsel or In-House Lawyer, an In-House Counsel provides their employer with quality, accurate and relevant advice on the whole spectrum of legal matters that apply to the business and their services or products. In-House Counsel are often just one member of a larger legal team and report to the General Counsel or Head of Legal.
- Sole In-House Counsel
Similar to an In-House Counsel in the advice they provide to their employer but different in the sense that they operate as the only Lawyer employed by the business, Sole Counsel must often come up with smarter and more innovative approaches to working and problem solving as they handle all aspects of legal.
- Sole Regional Counsel
Also referred to as Sole Divisional Counsel and much like the Sole In-House Counsel, a Sole Regional Counsel is a Lawyer who, while part of an organisation’s larger legal team, operates as the sole adviser in a specific location, office, or division.
In-house legal teams also include professionals such as Paralegals, Legal Secretaries or Compliance Officers.
In 2021, 46% of our audience were working in-house but only 19% were employed in In-House Counsel and General Counsel roles, so it follows that a significant number of non-qualified legal professionals are carving out in-house careers.
In-House Legal Counsel duties and responsibilities include:
• Providing accurate, relevant, and timely advice to your employer and other members of staff on a variety of legal topics that relate to the business sector and their products or services.
• Drafting, reviewing, and negotiating various commercial contracts and agreements.
• Managing and mitigating legal risks by designing and implementing company policies and procedures.
• Ensuring compliance with all laws and regulations that apply to the business.
• Promoting legal, compliance and risk management best practice throughout the company.
• Communicating with and managing any third-party bodies such as external counsel or auditors.
• Designing and delivering legal training to the business.
• Staying up-to-date with changes to legislation, particularly in relation to laws, rules and regulations that directly affect your business and specific industry.
• Liaising with senior members of staff.
To become an In-House Counsel, you will likely first need to qualify as a Solicitor and specialise in a practice area such as commercial contracts, intellectual property, data protection or corporate law. Once you have a couple of years of PQE, you will be able to make your first move into an In-House Counsel role.
If you take a look at an In-House Legal Counsel job description, there is a good chance you will find the employer seeks someone who demonstrates a commercial mindset and business acumen. Successful In-House Counsel often also possess the below skills and experience:
• Sound understanding and knowledge of commercial and corporate law.
• Depending on the seniority requirements of the role, you may be asked to have a certain number of years’ experience as a commercial lawyer working in-house or in a leading firm.
• Strong communication and presentation skills.
• Excellent negotiating and drafting skills.
• The ability to build and maintain strong professional relationships across the business.
• The ability to communicate complex legal issues and risks in terms that non-legal colleagues can understand.
• The ability to work in a highly autonomous role.
According to our recent Audience Insight Report, In-House Counsel earn an average salary of £88,423 per year. In the past year, 65% of In-House Counsel in our audience have topped up their basic earnings with a bonus.
Salaries and bonuses are dependent on factors such as location, practice area, employer, and experience level.
With male In-House Counsel earnings of £88,984 sat at around £1,400 higher than the £87,597 offered to women, the gender pay gap for these professionals was 2% in 2023.
In-House Counsel with many years of experience may progress into a General Counsel or Head of Legal role. Some larger organisations also have a Chief Legal Officer who sits alongside the CEO and the rest of the C-suite. Find out more about these roles below.
General Counsel or Head of Legal
This individual is the chief Lawyer and leader of the in-house legal department and oversees a broad role identifying company-wide legal issues, advising senior executives and managing the in-house team.
While often interchangeable job titles, if a company has a General Counsel and a Head of Legal, the General Counsel position will be more senior.
Check out our General Counsel Job Description article for more information.
Chief Legal Officer (CLO)
Despite having similar roles, the crucial difference between a General Counsel and Chief Legal Officer is the scope of their position. While a General Counsel is often exclusively concerned with the legal function of the business, Chief Legal Officer job responsibilities are broader. They view the work of the legal department in terms of how it intersects with the objectives and performance of the wider business. CLOs report into the CEO and usually have more direct access to the board of directors than a General Counsel.
If you are a strong and talented Commercial Lawyer currently working in a law firm and are missing the feeling of belonging with a company – plus wanting to forget about time sheets and frequently working overtime – a career as an In-House Counsel could be for you. Check out our In-House Counsel job description and then search and apply for the latest In-House Counsel jobs on TotallyLegal.