in-house lawyers

Goalkeepers, In-house Lawyers and the ‘visibility gap’

There was an excellent recent article in The Times written by the journalist and author Matthew Syed. The premise of the article was the undervaluation of the goalkeeper in football. Matthew’s view was that a goalkeeper rarely gets noticed when they have a terrific game yet the moment a goalkeeper makes a mistake, he hits the headlines. A dropped cross, a shot that squeezes through his legs or a punched clearance that lands at the feet of an opposition striker guarantees back page headlines, as well as the derision from fans and pundits alike.

Goalkeepers are undervalued – Paul Pogba, a mid-fielder signed for Manchester United for a record £89m, yet when Ederson signed for Manchester City for about £35m (less than half the price) he became the world’s most expensive goalkeeper. As Matthew Syed states this is extraordinary as goalkeepers are pivotal to the success of any aspiring team. Great teams have great goalkeepers. Manchester United secured their greatest achievements when Peter Schmeichel was in the line-up. The same could be said when Brian Clough signed Peter Shilton for Nottingham Forest.

I know what you are thinking, what has all this got to do with being an in-house lawyer? Like goalkeepers, in-house lawyers are the safeguards of the operation. While ‘management’ and ‘sales teams’ may get the glory, it is the in-house legal function that is protecting the business. In my opinion in-house lawyers are undervalued both in remuneration and in terms of the recognition of their day to day effect on the business. They are undervalued not because they are less important, but because of the perceptual imbalance within which they operate. Goalkeepers are noticed for the goals they concede, but not for those they stop, just as in-house lawyers are conspicuous when something goes wrong rather than for the numerous situations they prevent. Matthew called this the “visibility gap”.

The significance of both the goalkeeper and in-house lawyer is growing. A modern goalkeeper is expected not only to stop the ball, but clear with both feet and distribute effectively. An in-house lawyer is not only there to protect a business, but to actually support and help the business in achieving its commercial goals and aims. Great teams have great goalkeepers just as great businesses have great in-house lawyers. Different jobs but each characterised by the same essential contrast.

Yet both goalkeepers and in-house lawyers will, I suspect, continue to be undervalued. Perhaps the lesson we need to learn is to value and reward the prevention of negative situations/consequences, just as we value the creation of positive ones?

David Cartwright is a very experienced in-house legal recruiter and is Head of In-house – UK regions at Chadwick Nott. To discuss current in-house opportunities, please get in touch with David on: 0121 200 5576 or at:

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