Are in-house counsels really a risk to legal firms?

by Miklos Bolza24 Feb 2016
The latest edition of The GC Powerlist by The Legal 500 has been released, naming the top 500 legal in-house counsel operating in Australia and New Zealand.
The report comes at a time when businesses are seen as making a shift from private firms to in-house legal teams.
Rebecca Hayward, senior legal counsel for Fortescue Metals Group and GC powerlister, told The Australian Financial Review that in-house teams are now the ‘gatekeepers’ of external legal services.
“In-house teams have stronger ideas on what represents value for money, we want things that our specialised teams can’t do,” she said.
Her legal team was bringing more work in-house, she added.
“That puts pressure on the leverage model of law firms where the majority of this work would go to junior or senior associates. The large number of billable hours for that kind of mid-range work is being challenged.”
Tanya Khan, vice-president and managing director, Australia and Asia-Pacific at the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC), echoed the usefulness of in-house teams to NZ Lawyer
“These days many in-house legal teams are well-positioned within their organisations to take on high-level strategic work, adding immense value to the business,” she said.
Many legal departments are now taking on responsibility for non-legal areas and general counsel are looking to continue to strengthen and grow talent within their departments, she added.
However, she denied the suggestion that that in-house counsel would completely overtake the need for private law firms in the commercial space.
“There still appears to be a role for external providers. The recently released ACC CLO survey reported that 61 per cent of CLOs globally predict the amount of work sent to outside providers will remain the same in the coming year.”