5 Most Common In-House Lawyer Mistakes

By George Khoury, Esq. on November 13, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Being an in-house lawyer is not without its attendant risks and ethical obligations. Both new and experienced in-house counsel can make mistakes both as a lawyer and just in terms of the business they work for.

However, knowing about some of the more common mistakes can help you avoid them. To that end, below you'll find five of the most common flubs in-house lawyers can make.

1. Choosing the Wrong Outside Counsel

If you have the power to choose outside counsel, you may be tempted to choose a former colleague or a friend, rather than who the company has always used. However, if you choose an outside counsel whom you're vouching for due to a personal relationship without doing a thorough assessment, be prepared to suffer the consequences if the representation goes south, both professionally and personally.

2. Not Understanding Business

One of the most common mistakes new in-house attorneys make is simply failing to understand how the business world operates as opposed to how law firms operate.

Most law schools don't train lawyers for in-house positions due to the relatively small market. Compounding matters, most law schools don't teach students too much about the business world and how it operates. Sure, some courses teach the legal stuff, like compliance, M&A, etc... law schools just are not in the business of providing a real business education (go figure).

3. Not Understanding The Business

Along the same lines, some in-house attorneys in larger corporations actually don't understanding how their own company makes money. For those attorneys, the big-picture will be rather disconnected from the actual work they perform, like reviewing vendor agreements, or reporting on esoteric government compliance matters.

4. Dressing Like a Shlub

Just because you're an in-house counsel at a tech start up, it doesn't mean you shouldn't dress like a lawyer. Luckily, most in-house attorneys can actually be a bit more stylish and casual, and don't have to maintain that "ready for court" look.

5. Not Knowing How to Act in a Courtroom

As an in house, it's unlikely you'll be in court very often, if ever at all. But, if you do have to show up to court for something and don't know how to act inside the courtroom, it can be rather embarrassing, personally and professionally.

If you are unsure about courtroom decorum, you can show up to an earlier session of the court and observe from the gallery. If you don't have time for that, you can ask your outside counsel (who probably requested you be there) for a short primer on where to stand and sit, what else you may need to do. If you don't know what to ask, try this: "I've never been to this courtroom before, anything I need to know about? Like, where do we sit until our case is called?"

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