A corporate lawyer in private practice asked me recently, "What's it like to have just the one client then?"
"Not quite as simple as having just the one specialism," I replied. Because, when it comes to being an in-house lawyer, life is like a box of chocolates pick n' mix.
As a sole in-house counsel, I don't have the luxury of a specialism. My employer relies on me to know just the right amount of law about any event which happens to affect it that day of the week (and sometimes not necessarily the "right amount of law" just "the right amount of knowledge generally"). So, that could be a dose of contractual drafting on a Monday, a dip into a property lease on a Tuesday, approving the HR policies on a Wednesday, a dose of contract drafting on a Thursday and a dabble in collecting debt on a Friday*. Although more often than not, its all of those things and then some on a Monday and the rest of the week continues in a consistently random manner.
*I always leave anything litigious to a Friday, I'm a non-contentious lawyer and, to me, opposing counsel seem much more inclined to strike a deal with less antagonism on a Friday than any other day of the week. This just happens to be my observation of the world of litigation, any litigators out there who concur or disagree can drop me a line. On a Friday please.
Anyway, the point is an in-house lawyer has to be prepared to deal with any type of issue which drops onto his or her desk and be able to choose the correct legal tool to conjure the solution required. We just need to get things done.
I've acclimatised to being a general commercial lawyer through a combination of in-house roles in different industry sectors and also a good grounding in the Commercial teams of a couple of private practice firms. I recall being a trainee in the Commercial team of a law firm, and on my first day in the seat I asked the outgoing trainee what type of work I could expect to do in the team, he replied "Well, if it doesn't fall into Corporate, Property or Litigation, you'll be doing it".
However, I think there's much more discipline to being a general commercial lawyer than that rather glib welcome to the Commercial team suggests, and Richard Russeth, author of the blog The Last Generalist, agrees. Richard claims that the legal generalist is the new specialist. In his post More Sheriff Taylor Less Wyatt Earp, "Not a “jack of all trades, master of none” but a master of the breadth, height and depth of the law, its reason and its wisdom. She sees the forest. She sees the trees. She sees all the little pieces of the deal/business/environment, the mosaic they create, and, as a result, what needs to be done, the specialists needed, the knowledge to be tapped. She brings ethics, finesse and wisdom to her counsel. She is a counselor at law."
Liquorice allsorts anyone?