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Mary MullallyLast month Legal Director and its sister title Legal Week held the inaugural Bluechip In-house Legal Awards, in association with Westlaw UK from Sweet & Maxwell – the first awards ceremony dedicated to lawyers working in business.After years in the wilderness, in-house counsel found themselves taking centre stage as the top legal directors and their teams were recognised by their peers for their achievements within the corporate arena.Much is written about the growing confidence of in-house lawyers, no more so than in hiring and firing their law firms.But what is often forgotten is the broader picture. The real achievement of in-house lawyers in recent times has been the contribution they make to the wider business arena.In an interview with Legal Director this month, Lord Alexander of Weedon speaks out for the first time about his experiences as chair of NatWest and says that had NatWest had a general counsel in place in the 1980s it might have been spared the pain of the Blue Arrow affair.Blue Arrow happened when in-house lawyers’ role was more confined to the back office function. Times have changed.Business is slowly but surely recognising the importance of the role of general counsel. More lawyers are sitting at board level – their presence at the early stage of the decision-making process can and does make or break the business.But within the profession in-house lawyers still suffer from an image problem.In a Legal Week survey last month almost 50% of partners questioned at leading City firms said the role of equity partner was more prestigious than the role of the head of legal at a top UK corporation.This is telling. Private practice is still focused inwardly on the law firm picture and fails to recognise that the role lawyers play is increasingly pivotal to the success or failure of a business.In-house lawyers know it, business is beginning to recognise it, but private practice needs to wake up to the fact that lawyers are often key business decision-makers.It is this achievement more than any other that we set out to celebrate in the Bluechip Awards.

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