Wednesday, June 30, 2010

In-house counsel... What are those?

The life of a junior associate is mostly yawn material. Most of the excitement of a typical day is grovelling to the salary provider, backstabbing another associate as she grovels to the salary provider, gossiping about those grovelling and when the occasion demands, telling artful untruths. These many perils still come a far distance from that of the ‘in-house lawyer’.

‘In-house lawyers’, also derisively referred to as ‘legal secretaries’, a phrase that immediately evokes a bespectacled Pittman-trained typist; or the more generalised pompous sounding ‘in-house counsel;’ are law graduates and law school veterans who have ditched the proper practice of law for the overpaid corporate world.

The ‘in-house lawyer’ is in fact, a misnomer. ‘Real lawyers’ are those you see in the courts, dragging their robes, quasi toga style, like you’ll expect of royalty. ‘Real lawyers’ are also distinguished by their litigation prowess and adjournment-seeking skills. We take no prisoners. One easy way to tell a real lawyer from these pretenders is the way our voices are permanently set to the ‘high-pitch’ category (in order to share credit: I think that also has something to do with the fact that the microphones in the courts rarely work). Anyway, in-house lawyers also have rudimentary legal training so they have some limited right to the use of ‘lawyer’. A suitable analogy: real lawyers are like ‘presidents’ while in-house lawyers are ‘vice-presidents’. They both use the word ‘president’ but one does nothing but takes pictures and attend ceremonies on behalf of the other.

These poor souls are torn in between two worlds. They bear the burden of lawyering without any of the benefits that make Nigerian parents encourage their naive children to study law. After spending time in law school, undergoing the humiliation of the faceless penguin uniforms, pretending to listen while sitting through hours of classes, having to actually read tons of useless material, among other painful activities; they end up with a job that hides their strengthened virtues ‘under a bushel’. Their dignity and hard work is never recognised. For example, they never quite attain the glory of puffing while pretending to hate the wig and gown under the sweltering heat. Instead, they lose their lack of individuality in the corporate world as they blend into the army of mere commoners. Worse still, they daily contend with having to mix colours to wear after years of the easy and reliable monochrome.

In exchange for an over-priced salary (no, I am not really jealous), in-house lawyers will never get to say things like ‘objection, My Lord’, complete with the dramatic slam on the bar or with the right amount of spit, pronounce to an hapless witness - ‘I put it to you’. They will never enjoy the pleasure of being referred to as ‘Barrister X’ or if they like, ‘Lawyer Y’, as if the profession confers specialised honorifics that reminds all of our superiority. Their words will never be immortalised through the honourable judge’s pen. They will never sit through the drone that begins after the third hour of judgment-reading or fantasise about elevation to the bench. For the rest of their career-life, they will remain mere men, un-revered and un-awed.

Bits of legal training spurts once in a while as legal training cannot be fully tamed. ‘These people’, a hybrid of the fantastic and the mundane, try to convince their employers of their value. They struggle with the professionals by reviewing our agreements or making suggestions to our work but they only come off as meddlesome children, without the far reaching effects of a Kaita.

I ought to be thankful for me. There are far more horrible things than being a junior associate

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