The Rise of the In-House Lawyer in New Zealand

The Rise of the In-House Lawyer in New Zealand 2

The number of in-house lawyers in New Zealand continues its steady rise, moving up from 23 per cnt in 2016 to 28 per cent in 2021 according to NZ Law Society statistics.

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The trend is not one that occurs in New Zealand alone, with all the major Western jurisdictions showing such increases. In the UK, the number of in-house lawyers has tripled in the past 20 years according to the UK Law Society.

According to Lawyers Weeklythis rise is reflected globally, most notably in Asia and Commonwealth Australia.

The Rise of the In-House Lawyer in New Zealand 3

Who Are The In-House Lawyers?

The nature of the in-house lawyer and the work they do has changed over recent years.

The NZ Law Society stats showed that 22 per cent of those practising in-house have between 6 and 10 years’ experience.- The split between Auckland and Wellington is reasonably even with over 1500 in Auckland and 1450 in the capital.

Legal recruiters say most have worked in government or local government organisations – information they gained anecdotally. Now the majority (2276) work in commercial business organisations and businesses.

“This growth in the number and proportion of lawyers choosing to work in in-house roles is expected to continue, with many organisations seeing the value of in-house lawyers and choosing to increase legal expertise and capacity within the organisation,” says Grant Pritchard, President of the In-House Lawyers Association of New Zealand.

Not only are organisations pushing for more efficiency, they’re pushing for more than law from in-house lawyers. They’re pushing for lawyers to be business decision makers and wise business advisers.

The role of the in-house counsel is changing – and becoming more demanding too. As Geoff Creighton, the volunteer CEO of InHouse Counsel Worldwide, a global affiliation of national associations representing in-house counsel says:

“The legal answer is less likely to be the right answer any more. It’s the goalposts you have to stay within. But I’m thinking of the whole world of social media, for instance. Any allegation of anything on social media. It could be an ideologically driven hatchet job or a single disgruntled former employee. The legally correct answers to this may not be the business answer the company should necessarily end up taking.”

Every legal decision requires a wider perspective and greater media savvy than ever before. “In-house lawyers are now being treated as part of the business, and if they want to be treated as part of the business they’re going to have to have answers that are more perceptive than ‘we should sue them’.” Creighton said. “None of these are skills that are taught to you in law school.”

What Do In-House Lawyers Earn?

The pay for in-house lawyers depends on experience, as with any other legal job.

Those with 3-5 years experience earn on average between $100,000 to $160,000 while Senior Legal Counsel: $150,000 to $220,000 General Counsel: $200,000 to $500,000.

Recruiters obviously also acknowledge the increased role of in-house counsel in legal work and the way it has altered the New Zealand law profession. Legal recruiters note that few lawyers making the change from private legal practice to corporate law work make the move back to private practice.

In other markets like the UK and US in-house or corporate lawyers tend to have a high degree of specialisation, which is not generally the case in the New Zealand market where the lawyers tend to be generalists, usually with a broad grounding in commercial legal work like contracts, shareholder agreements, property transactions and the like.

Secondments are a useful way to gain exposure to the nature of corporate counsel work but there are also important communication skills necessary too as in-house counsel need to work with different divisions within their companies or organisations, necessitating an ability to understand and translate the requirements of the ‘client’ into competent legal documentation.

“The organisation is looking for lawyers who have sound judgment and an understanding of their business,”
said legal recruiter Lorraine Zenzic of Hays Recruitment. “You have to have strong stakeholder engagement. How you communicate at all levels is key. So is understanding issues and producing viable and tangible solutions – lawyers who are business enablers, making commercially.”

Flexi-Lawyering Work Attraction

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Corporates have been quicker than most to respond to the pandemic and changing work conditions, although law firms are rapidly catching on to the need for greater flexibility in work requirements, remote work and the like.

“Many businesses particularly public sector, are now doing two days from home, three in the office. They may have glide time. There isn’t as much flexibility in private practice although they are working on it,” Lorraine Zenzic said.

So-called ‘flexi-lawyering’ is catching on, but none more so than in the corporate and in-house legal world. There has been an increase in part-time roles for lawyers where the specific legal advice can be tailored to the requirements of the business.

The use of flexi-lawyering means that the use of secondments or project-based appointments can help organisations work effectively to the point that – in the UK – PricewaterhouseCoopers expects 20% of its workforce to be contractors or temporary workers within a few years

Continued Growth of In-House Lawyers

The continued growth of in-house lawyers is set to continue with the changing nature of work in the modern world and particularly post-pandemic (or mid-pandemic) as the case may be.

There are new issues and requirements for legal help that continue to play a key role in how legal advice is delivered and the type of legal advice delivered.

One of the major factors accelerating demand internationally has been the increased hacking threats that have affected organisations and requiring specialised legal help with cybersecurity and data privacy issues.

In both the UK and the US this trend has created a lateral hiring spree amongst many companies. For instance, research from Cyber Security Ventures suggests that 100% of Fortune 500 companies will have a chief information security officer position by the end of 2021.

These issues clearly affect new Zealand organisations in the same way and the same factors will play out to create greater demand for in-house counsel in New Zealand to continue the already remarkable growth seen to date.

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