IN-HOUSE TOM: a new target operating model for law departments – INTRODUCTION

I’m writing a book with the working title: IN-HOUSE TOM: a new target operating model for law departments – initially as a series of blogs.

Definition of terms


In-house lawyers are employed by businesses and not-for-profit organisations, as opposed to being employed by “out-of-house” law firms.

No other function in an organisation uses this in/out nomenclature.

For example, accountants don’t call themselves “in-house accountants” nor do they refer to accounting firms “as-out-of-house” either.

I will explain in the book how this curiosity has evolved, how the uncut umbilical cord connecting “in and out of house” has developed, who’s the “mother” and what could happen next.


A target operating model is a blueprint for an organisation linking three components:

⁃ a market (client) need

⁃ strategic resources

⁃ strategic processes to apply the resources to meet that need


The current IN-HOUSE TOM isn’t working well enough for all stakeholders for reasons I will explain in detail but the headlines are:

  • Society is poorly served because in-house lawyers can’t/don’t act independently as required by regulation which is also so light touch as to be hands-off
  • Business is poorly served because in-house lawyers can’t/don’t report directly to their boards which is their client under law but to the CEO, or worse, to the CFO who is their “boss”. This means that instead of “telling” the business what it needs in relation to its strategy, it must “ask”. This flies in the face of the asymmetrical knowledge nature of the relationship
  • Lawyers are poorly served because they are not trained to lead in commercial contexts in law school nor in their legal training in law firms; they are frequently subjected to ethical pressure by “the business” and are constantly having to justify their existence evidenced by their regular conferences debating “how to have a seat at the table”. No other function, apart from HR, is stuck in this organisational hamster wheel.

This book is about how lawyers in-house and out working with the “C-Suite” can come together to sort this mess out for the good of society, business and lawyers.

It’s time to change the status quo.

It’s time for a new IN-HOUSE TOM.

Ciarán Fenton

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