What makes a skilled in-house lawyer?

What makes a skilled in-house lawyer?

We recently commissioned research to look at how in-house counsel are approaching the issue of value creation within their businesses. Amongst the attributes identified as providing higher value and increasing the influence and impact of in-house legal teams were: a mixture of legal and non-legal skills; and the ability to handle corporate ethics. We will consider these below.


A growing demand for business savvy in-house lawyers


In terms of assessing the skills of in-house lawyers, our research indicates that there has been a shift in focus from purely looking at legal expertise and knowledge, to also encompass commercial and technological ability. Core technical legal skills are now a given, and it’s the business and non-legal skills which make in-house counsel truly stand out and add value. Some of the most highly regarded skills and competencies include:

  • Confidence in productivity software like MS Office and project management software (96%)

  • Soft skills such as influencing, collaboration and relationship building (95%)

  • Experience working in industry or business (94%)


Drafting and legal research, whilst still very high up on the list, actually fall below these three attributes, at 91% and 86% respectively.


And it is not just the existing skills of an in-house lawyer which are important, but also their ability to carry on learning and evolving their expertise. In particular, the ability to pick up market research, data analytics and project management skills are highly regarded.


Virtually all in-house counsel interviewed (98%) think that investment in business oriented skills will enable legal teams to offer more effective advice, over 90% said it would reduce risk and around 80% said it would improve business relationships.


The role of an Ethical Champion


Aside from their legal and business skills, another way in-house legal departments can create value in their organisations is by taking on the role of ‘Ethical Champion’. Although this can be rather difficult to define, generally speaking this will be a case of providing ethical steer to executive decisions and instilling a moral compass within the corporate ethos - in other words being the legal conscience of the business.


“There is an expectation that legal is there – not just to haul you out of trouble when you’re in it – but to stop you getting into trouble, and to help people to do the right thing. And I think that’s almost impossible to quantify in any kind of activity or financial way.” General counsel, global agricultural organisation


93% of in-house lawyers believe that the promotion and protection of ethics is one of the main ways they can directly deliver value to the company, falling just behind the reduction of legal risk. And over 90% have a dedicated ethics committee in their company, on which a representative of the legal team sits.


A couple of ways in which in-house lawyers can help to cultivate a corporate legal conscience are:



  • Setting up an ethics committee (if it doesn’t already exist) - to educate and advise the company about a variety of ethical concerns, from sustainability to equality.

  • Raise ethics at Board level - an Ethical Champion can take part in board meetings to encourage discussion of the ethical nature of various corporate policies and decisions.

Read the full report findings

LexisNexis In-house Insights Report: Demonstrating value. Making the intangible, tangible


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About the author:
Alex Heshmaty is a legal copywriter and journalist with a particular interest in legal technology. He runs Legal Words, a legal copywriting and marketing agency.