Based on years of experience in the profession, Pan Qi advises in-house counsel on how to stand out in a crowd

First of all, we need to consider this question: who is the client that an in-house counsel serves? In-house counsel often refer to colleagues in the company as “clients”. This reference is perfectly fine when used in day-to-day work, but strictly speaking it is not fully accurate, because the true client of an in-house counsel is the company, not individuals within the company.

The distinction is important, as it touches on the question of where an in-house counsel’s responsibility ultimately lies. A good in-house counsel should always focus on the company’s best interests, not necessarily any individual person’s ideas or needs, which may not always be consistent with the interests of the company. When such ideas or needs are from the senior management of the company, the counsel take special care to handle the matter properly.

In some companies, in-house counsel annually take part in client satisfaction surveys, or similar surveys, in which counsel are rated by business colleagues. These surveys are well intended and serve good purposes, as they give business colleagues a chance to provide comments and suggestions, which may be helpful for the evaluation and improvement of the work of in-house counsel. However, the term “client satisfaction” may also lead to confusion. As mentioned above, strictly speaking, the counsel’s true client is the company, not an individual person.

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