How Not to Lose Your In House Job: Avoid Conflicts
The going doesn't get much better than being an in-house lawyer. Regular hours, regular pay, respect from the proletariat, and best of all, no billable hour logs. As such, one of the easiest ways an in-house lawyer can make sure they don't get fired is to avoid conflicts.
One of the most common conflicts involves representing the company and its employees and officers in the same legal matter. Adverse interests may not be readily apparent at the outset, but as time continues, a conflict could arise that could render you no longer employable by your only client.
Representing Employees and the Company
Oftentimes, when a matter is being litigated against a company, in-house counsel will defend the matter rather than retain outside counsel. However, this can quickly become problematic when employees begin being deposed.
In-house lawyers are duty bound to the company, but, if they represent an employee at a depo, an adverse interest between employer and employee could lead to a conflict of interest. While it is not a hard and fast rule that an in house can't represent an employee as well as their employer, it certainly should not be done without a written disclosure and waiver. Believe it or not, there's a risk of malpractice for failing to do so.
What About Corporate Officers?
The potential for conflict between in house and employee pales in comparison to the risk of losing your job if a conflict arises between an in house and a corporate officer. Though providing off the record, unrelated legal advice to a C-level executive can be common between GCs and Cs that might have a friendly relationship, it certainly risks a conflict if any of that advice is adverse to the company's interests.
For instance, a CEO discussing a pending divorce with the company's GC might not reflect an adverse interest to the company. But, if it becomes a messy, public divorce, and the company chooses to oust the CEO, a conflict could arise, especially if the CEO is feeling litigious after being ousted. It can get even more complicated when an in house or GC conducts an internal investigation into potential criminal misconduct by corporate officers or employees.
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