Sapna Fitzgerald writes about about why she chose to work as an in-house lawyer, the issues affecting in-house lawyers, and why she feels in-house lawyers are as independent as external advisers
I have been an in-house lawyer since 1996. In fact, during my career so far, I have never been anything but an in-house lawyer. After I completed my degree and LPC, I joined the in house legal department at the Government Legal Service, Welsh Office where I qualified. On qualification, I moved to Yorkshire Water/Kelda plc and, after two more moves, took up my current position as Company Secretary and Head of Legal at LSL Property Services plc.
Being an in-house lawyer is a very varied and rewarding career. We are part of the business and, in providing legal services, benefit from being on the ‘inside’. Being within an organisation means we have a greater insight into the business needs and objectives; it also means we can be involved in strategy and see things through. However, we can’t take this special access or the relationships with the business makers for granted. Like any person providing professional services, we have to work at building relationships, gaining professional respect and trust and always demonstrating our value to the business.
What can the Law Society do?
For me, the two key issues affecting in-house lawyers today are the attacks on legal professional privilege (LPP) from Europe and the costs environment. In terms of LPP, UK lawyers operate differently from our counterparts in Europe. We need to ensure that the European law-makers understand this and that UK in-house lawyers are as independent as our external advisers.
In relation to costs, we are all working for businesses in difficult times and, along with the rest of the business, have to do what we can to manage the cost associated with the provision of legal services.
The Law Society can help in-house lawyers by lobbying for in-house lawyers and promoting our unique position and skills, in particular our ability to remain independent at all times. In relation to costs, the obvious ones are not increasing the costs of practising; also providing support and benefits to in-house lawyers to help manage costs.
There has been much debate in recent years about the diversity of company boards and I personally believe that lawyers, especially in-house lawyers, are a great untapped source of executives (including non-executive) directors. I think the Law Society, which has shown itself to be particularly effective in lobbying and raising the profile of solicitors, could do much more here. I would also like to see the Law Society working to increase the representation of in-house solicitors in the judiciary.