When speaking to legal professionals, we often hear of a certain partner at a law firm experiencing an unexpectedly difficult transitional period after becoming a corporate’s in-house counsel, even though the roles are assumed by many to be different in name only, but largely identical in function. This is due to the relatively subtle, unperceived differences between an in-house counsel and an external lawyer. Winny Zhang reports
reviously, China Business Law Journal unveiled the leading in-house counsel and corporate legal teams in the Chinese legal market, and we also surveyed them on their methods and strategies for striving for excellence, in order to unravel the necessary skills for their success.
We compared their feedback with the keywords for becoming an elite lawyer, as submitted by the A-List lawyers. Although there are many commonalities between the habits proposed by in-house counsel and practising lawyers, the former’s role as part of the corporation lends them a unique perspective. In this article, we will cover the chief skills required to succeed as an in-house counsel as compared to a lawyer at a law firm, both the common ground and the differences, in hopes that they provide insights for newcomers to the profession.
1.Excellent legal expertise
Almost half of the survey respondents point out that an excellent in-house counsel must have excellent legal expertise. Liu Li, director of legal compliance department at Thunder Software Technology, believes that “the greatest value of an in-house counsel is being able to combine business practice with professional legal knowledge, and then provide feasible solutions to prevent crises and mitigate risks.”
However, a general counsel’s practice is slightly different to that of lawyers, who tend to focus on a specific area, or specialty. Given that most enterprises involve laws in areas such as taxation, financing, compliance and in particular regulations related to their specific industries, Sun Chuntao, head of legal division, policy and regulation division at China State Shipbuilding, advises that: “[in-house counsel] should have comprehensive legal knowledge.”
As Chinese companies rapidly grow their businesses, with many expanding internationally in recent years, they have begun to face a growing number of foreign-related and cross-border challenges. Li Yupeng, general manager of Xiamen C&D’s legal department, says an in-house counsel must “have overseas legal expertise to help companies carry out business in foreign markets”.