I have worked for a large part of my career in in-house roles.
I was hired as a wild card entry in one of my roles.
The person hired before me couldn’t adjust to the fast paced environment and left within a week. The company was a fast growing, young and dynamic company which had a lot of growth plans moving all at the same time.
I had moved to this role from a firm and I was experiencing a world of difference between the two environments.
Often we tend to believe that in an in-house role, there isn’t much diverse work to take on because at the end of the day, it is just one company. How many different things can you learn with just one company?
On the other hand, it is believed that practice may give you multiple different experiences since there are many clients of different sizes.
Actually, the fact is that in a practice, you are likely to be working in a specific niche area. There may be many clients, but the practice area remains the same. But in an in-house role, you will have your hands in almost everything. You will need to be aware about a lot more beyond your legal area and even in areas beyond law. This is because your role as a lawyer will intersect with a lot of departments – finance, company secretarial, compliance, HR and so on.
Why should you take up an in-house counsel role?
I felt that I could enjoy a lot more autonomy in an in-house role than that of a law firm. If I wanted to get something done, I had some extent of flexibility in how I could get it done. Comparatively, firm environments tend to be very structured and the set practices are required to be followed.
Secondly, in a law firm, everything tends to be dictated by what the client wants. If they need you to do stuff which is not intellectually appealing, then they need you to do that stuff – you cannot turn away from it. In an in-house role, it may be possible to offload the filing and other procedural tasks to an external consultant for lesser cost than your time.
Law firms tend to have either transactional lawyers or litigators, and the same people are usually not doing both the tasks. Even if you are an independent practitioner and are dabbling a bit in both, you will still have one dominant area.
In an in-house role, you will be involved in transactions, compliance, systems and litigation. Though there may be different lawyers representing the company in the court, you will be involved in framing the litigation strategy and must therefore, understand how litigation works as well.
It will be years before you can communicate directly with a client in a law firm. Usually, only Senior Associates or Principal Associates can be permitted to communicate directly with clients. However in an in-house role, you will directly be interacting with all major stakeholders – the management, the shareholders, the regulator, consultants, people in other departments or even customers.
This is not to say that in-house roles work for everyone. Chances are that you do not get much handholding if the person occupying that position has left before you join and there hasn’t been much or any handover. If you prefer a structured environment and are not comfortable with finding out things and picking up the threads yourself, this may not be for you.
Why tech companies?
A simple reason is that these companies can be expected to grow in terms of business, and hence, can be expected to pay well. Many of these tend to grow very fast. This is why the learning curve with these companies is very steep.
Gradually, except for hardcore infrastructure maybe, we will cease to have any brick and mortar sector left which does not have a tech angle or front. If you have worked in a tech company, you will be able to work in any entity that provides a tech value addition to an existing sector. Working in a tech company will increase your employability manifold.
With a tech company, you are likely to be connected to what’s next. You will be able to see a lot of creative elements. For instance, how would it feel to work with the creators of this little guy? It can be a very fulfilling experience.
What kind of work will you get to do with a tech company?
In a fast growing company, you are likely to see acquisitions, spin-offs, setting up an entity out of India, structuring transactions between group companies etc.
In one of my stints, I got to take a look at a proposed acquisition, proposed setting up of an entity outside India and also some related party transactions. All within a period of 7-8 months. You can be getting a great experience in a very short period of time.
In an in-house role, you will be working on multiple different types of contracts. You can be working on an intellectual property licensing agreement, an employment agreement, a software development agreement, a leave and licence agreement and a shareholders agreement. It will not be restricted to one specific area.
This role will require you to have really good contract drafting skills. You must also understand the intentions of the opposite party and be able to review standard contracts provided by certain parties like banks to ensure that your employer’s interests are protected.
Intellectual property management
Technology companies are likely to have a lot of work around intellectual property management. They may be using someone else’s intellectual property under a license to build a product and they may be licensing their own products to someone else. In addition, you will also be involved in ensuring that the intellectual property is registered at the right places to ensure that it is protected at those places.
You may also have to manage a proper patent portfolio.
Some technology companies can be subject to higher levels of compliance, in addition to the regular compliance requirements for a company – for instance, Fintech companies will be subject to RBI regulations in addition to compliance requirements under company law or taxation.
Companies dealing with data require the compliance with GDPR and understanding the applicability of GDPR and being able to install systems compliant with GDPR can give you an edge.
Some tech companies can also be subject to specific taxation requirements such as Online Information Database Access and Retrieval (OIDAR) companies and e-commerce companies.
In addition, you may even face specific requirements under the Foreign Exchange Management Act, 1999 and related regulations if you are receiving investment from persons resident outside India as an e-commerce company.
You will need to be aware of what to do about litigation initiated against the company. You will also need to be aware of where to initiate litigation in the event that the company requires this to be done. You may not represent the company before the court or the tribunal, but you will need to be involved in framing the litigation strategy and you must be aware of the status of all litigation initiated by and against the company.
Creating internal policies and establishing systems
Growing organisations need processes to be structured. Often, certain policies are required by statutes to be established, such as whistleblowing and vigil mechanisms for companies beyond a certain size. In addition to this, there can policies which are required to be set such as social media policy, policy against sexual harassment, anti-corruption policies, code of conduct etc.
While many of these may be in the HR domain, in-house lawyers may be consulted on creating these since elements of these may intersect with applicable laws.
What is the difference in applying for a job in an in-house counsel role as compared to a law firm?
At the time of applying for a law firm, you would be focusing on the specific team in the law firm that you want to work with and you would be shaping your application accordingly. While in applying for an in-house role, there is no specific team – it is simply for the company and hence, you would need to be well versed with what the business of the company is and what laws are applicable to it and what is the kind of work that you will get to do.
In-house hiring managers may be more flexible as compared to law firms while hiring. What they are looking for is that based on your background and attitude, you will be a good fit for the organisation. They may not focus too much on experience if they sense that the attitude matches the organisation culture.
What would you need to arm yourself with, before applying for in-house legal roles?
First and foremost, you would need to arm yourself with the knowledge of what exactly is the business that the company is engaged in. You cannot apply for or give an interview for an in-house position without knowing the products and services that the company offers, its position in that market, the geographical spread of the company and the management.
You would also need to research out the people behind the company – the management, people leading the different departments and especially if there are people already in the legal department and if yes, how many.
A good idea of the business of the company can give you an idea of the kind of work that you will be required to do. However, a glimpse below at the specific learning objectives of this course can give you a quite comprehensive view of different areas of work that a technology lawyer can undertake:
You can learn these by interning with tech lawyers, of course. But getting internships also can be tough, and we have often stated about how you need to use your internships for performing rather than learning. You would therefore need to conduct deep research on how this work is done much before you even apply for internships. And that’s precisely where we can help with making you do the work hands-on, so that you can perform at your internships.
Until the time you can land a job in an in-house role, you can also verse yourself with paralegal work in the technology industry. There is no better way than this to be in a continuous learning and high earning zone.
We are conducting a workshop on the 31st of January about how you can get paralegal work from foreign tech lawyers. You can register for it here:
Looking forward to seeing you in the workshop. Be with us in the journey to continuous upskilling.
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