As a rule, private practice ears should burn when in-house lawyers meet as a group. The Law Society In-House Division annual conference underlined the point. The reason is not in-house antipathy towards private practice (from whence most in-house lawyers came). 

Rather, they are in a position to identify the mismatch between clients’ actual needs and law firms’ best guess on those needs. 

What would private practice ears pick up from such an event? They might first want to consider the gulf between the way law firms measure work, and the metrics used by in-house legal teams. Both measure time – but in different units. Law firms have fixed-cost models that have no mirror-version in-house. And private practice attempts at alternative billing models include ‘value billing’, which general counsel do not adopt when reporting to their own clients. 

With changes in the use of workplace technology, there is likely a huge adjustment coming for in-house lawyers. Email, with its similarity to old-fashioned correspondence, is being displaced by instant messaging. Instant messaging systems commonly allow a sender to see if their message has been ‘touched’, and such messaging comes with the expectation of a style of response that is at variance with correspondence.

In-house lawyers will adapt first to client challenges – are law firms ready?