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Why this sense of generalist lawyers inside and specialist lawyers outside?

Something puzzles me about the prevailing view on legal specialists. People often characterize in-house counsel has generalists, dabbling in lots of legal issues, and private-practice lawyers as specialists, skilled in a niche area. The first part may somewhat hold true for the lawyer in-house who is alone or in a small department, because she is more likely to have to handle a wide variety of legal issues as a gatekeeper or issue spotter.

The point is wrong, however, where in-house work focuses on a narrow area of law (See my post of Jan. 20, 2006 about CLE not being useful because the in-house attendees are too sophisticated.). Whatever areas of law you face repeatedly, be it export compliance or online privacy concerns or the FDA approval process, you become deeply experienced and knowledgeable about that subject.

Outside, in a law firm, if the firm is small, lawyers and to handle whatever work they can rummage up. They too are generalists to that extent. Only the larger firms have the volume of work in a narrow area of law to support a degree of specialization as lawyers – after several years of focus – home in on a complex area of law

My final observation is that the combination of business savvy and legal depth makes an in-house practitioner even more specialized than an outside counterpart who mostly knows just the law.

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One response to “Why this sense of generalist lawyers inside and specialist lawyers outside?”

  1. Rees
    I think this sense of generalist lawyers inside and specialist lawyers outside it’s a kind of dogma. Nobody wants to think different. How can a law departments get a competitive advantage, if all of them are stuck in the same mental model? How can this mentality be changed?