The Professionalization of Law Firm In-House Counsel

63 Pages Posted: 25 Jul 2006

See all articles by Elizabeth Chambliss

Elizabeth Chambliss

University of South Carolina - School of Law


This Article examines the structural evolution of the firm counsel position from a volunteer, part-time position filled by an existing partner to a specialized, often full-time position increasingly filled by career in-house counsel. Based on focus groups and interviews with firm counsel, as well as participant observation at meetings and conferences aimed at firm counsel, I examine how the professionalization of the firm counsel position affects: (1) the definition of the firm as the client; (2) the authority of firm counsel with partners; and (3) firm counsels' professional commitments and attitudes about ethical rules.

I find that, from a regulatory standpoint, the professionalization of firm counsel is a positive development. The increasing formalization and specialization of the firm counsel position has helped to clarify the identity of the firm as a client without compromising the authority or commitment of lawyers who serve in that role. Although "professional" firm counsel - that is, full-time firm counsel and those appointed from outside the firm - tend to draw on different sources of authority than part-time firm counsel who grew up in the firm, most respondents report that their role is expanding and that they have sufficient authority to be effective. I argue that professional networks among firm counsel are likely to play a critical role in defining the future standards for law firm regulation and urge legal ethics scholars to collaborate with firm counsel in promoting the vibrancy of such networks.

Keywords: law firms, regulation, legal profession, professionalization, ethics, general counsel, in-house counsel, compliance

Suggested Citation

Chambliss, Elizabeth, The Professionalization of Law Firm In-House Counsel. North Carolina Law Review, Vol. 84, p. 1515, 2006, NYLS Legal Studies Research Paper No. 06/07-4, Available at SSRN:

Elizabeth Chambliss (Contact Author)

University of South Carolina - School of Law ( email )

1525 Senate Street
Columbia, SC 29208
United States

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