Lynda Towers, convener of the In-house Lawyers Committee of the Law Society of Scotland, talks about how the in-house lawyer has changed over the years.
The in-house lawyer is alive and well and living in Scotland! Numbers have grown steadily over the past few years and in-house lawyers now make up almost one third of the legal profession in Scotland. What is different is the context within which in-house lawyers are working. Twenty years ago, in-house lawyers were mainly found in central and local government with a few based in banks and commercial enterprises. It was not perceived as a dynamic or desirable environment by many young lawyers.
Today the picture is very different. There are still many of us working in the traditional in-house world advising central and local government from Shetland to the Borders and advising the Scottish Government and Parliament in Edinburgh and Glasgow. What is different is the increasing importance of the in-house lawyer as an integral part of any innovative and enterprising business seeking to grow in Scotland whether in the government or commercial sector.
What this has meant is that the earlier division between government and commercial In-house lawyers is blurring. Local authorities are having to develop clever ways to deliver local services with less resources and their lawyers are at the forefront of seeking ways to make this work. We are all working in businesses, whether of the elected or money making kind and we bring an understanding of the needs of that business.
Our skills are transferrable and our approach in Scotland is certainly flexible whether being part of a team who have grown a business from a fledging new start to a major world player to a council delivering city deals and international events through all sorts of new legal entities. In-house lawyers know what is important to a business, its people and its clients.
This means that in-house lawyers dealings with the private sector are also changing. Today it is much more of a respectful partnership between the different sectors complementing our different strengths rather than a perceived one way traffic of expertise with the in-house lawyer the grateful recipient.
The in-house lawyer is increasingly sitting at the board table in Scotland or is a member of the Local Council’s senior management, bringing their analytical skills and judgement to the discussion in so many different areas; in banking, in oil and gas, in educational establishments, in retail, in the third sector, in the arts as well as the more traditional sectors.
We are seeing increasing movement between private practice and in-house as young lawyers tend not to expect to be with a firm for life. The skills of the in-house lawyer and the experience gained are rightly seen as a valued addition to a young lawyers CV.
In Scotland, in-house lawyers are now represented by a newly constituted committee of the Law Society of Scotland who have recognised that this growing sector of the profession needs support to continue its growth and to ensure it can respond to its new developing needs to take us through the next twenty years.