In-house sector 'growing like Topsy'
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06 Apr 2018 / in-house counsel Print

In-house sector surges ahead to almost one-fifth

A trend that is sweeping the legal profession world-wide is that of commercial, regulatory, and other organisations recruiting lawyers as ‘in-house’ practitioners.

In-house solicitors are practising solicitors, just as their colleagues in private practice are. The only difference is that in-house solicitors have just a single client – their employer.

Employment as an in-house solicitor in Ireland, as distinct from private practice, was relatively rare even 20 years ago. But during the last two decades, it has become a perfectly normal and professionally respected career choice for solicitors in Ireland.

In this month's Gazette, we publish, for the first time, a table showing the 20 organisations employing the largest numbers of in-house PC-holding solicitors in the State, with the number of PCs in each case. The table shows numbers of PCs, from 11 upwards.

There are, of course, a great many other organisations, too numerous to list here, with fewer PC holders.

Largest employer

Allied Irish Banks – with 108 PC holders – is, by a distance, the largest employer (that is not a law firm) of practising solicitors in the 26 counties.

Indeed, if Allied Irish Banks were a law firm, it would rank as the ninth biggest firm in the State – just behind Maples and Calder at 115 PCs, and ahead of Eversheds Sutherland at 103 – as was revealed by the table of law firm practising solicitor numbers, published on page 28 of the Jan/ Feb 2018 Gazette.

It is striking, moreover, how many organisations in the financial services sector are major employers of solicitors.

The total number of PCs issued to solicitors in the State, either in private practice or working in-house, on 31 December 2017, was 9,665 (as analysed on page 22 of the March 2018 issue of the Gazette).

The table published here reveals that 1,805 of those PC-holders are working as in-house solicitors. Accordingly, rounded to the nearest percentage point, 19 per cent of practitioners in the State practice in-house – a percentage that is ‘growing like Topsy’ every year.

Excluded from these figures is the substantial number of solicitors who are working ‘in the full-time service of the State’.

Specific provisions in the Solicitors Acts exempt such solicitors, such as those in the Chief State Solicitors Office, from the legal requirement of all other practising solicitors to hold PCs.

Gender divergence

The distribution of in-house PC holders, on both a county-by-county and gender basis, is published here for the first time.

A whopping 81 per cent of in-house solicitors have employment addresses in Dublin city or county. This is far higher than the total number of PCs – inclusive of private and in-house practitioners – based in Dublin, which is 63 per cent.

In Cork, which has in total 9% of the State’s PC holders, there are just six per cent of the State’s in-house practitioners. No less than 14 of the State’s 26 counties have in-house solicitor numbers that are in single digits. Carlow and Roscommon have none.

Perhaps the most interesting of the statistics published here relates to the very considerable gender divergence between private practice and in-house practice. The fact that 1,232 in-house PC holders are women and 573 are men reveals that no less than 68 per cent of in-house practitioners are female. Some 52 per cent of the entire practising profession are women, but only 48 per cent of those who are in private practice are women.

Work/life balance

The reasons why women solicitors are choosing in-house practice, rather than private practice, to such a marked extent deserves to be studied properly.

Issues to do with work/life balance are often cited in this regard, but the implications, for the future of all legal practice, of this phenomenon requires research and consideration.

Ken Murphy
Ken Murphy is Director General of the Law Society