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Legal departments should align with business priorities

As legal departments across the country face numerous hurdles, having a seat at the table is important for an organisation to achieve overall goals.

user iconLauren Croft 11 June 2024 Big Law
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According to Tabcorp group general counsel Ivana Kovacevic, general counsel of technology procurement, data, and privacy Fiona Tyas, and general counsel of M&A, treasury, and corporate services Tom Boyd, capacity constraints, strategic objectives, emerging technology, and ongoing scarcity are all key trends for GCs to be abreast of in 2024.

Speaking recently on The Corporate Counsel Show, the trio discussed key challenges each of them are facing so far in 2024 – as well as how the Tabcorp legal department is strategically aligned with the business.

Many in-house teams across the country face the issue of having urgent competing priorities – and balancing them can be tricky, said Kovacevic.

 
 

“I think you only have what you have to work with, so you have to make that as efficient as you can. And so, it’s very true that you’re looking to improve while you’re working with what you’ve got. There are ways to do this. I think there are ways that you can, as you’re doing things, realise that there are efficiencies, there are things that are taking too long or that you can drop,” she said.

“But one particular task that we are undertaking now is exactly along the lines of what you said. We are actually analysing, doing a high-level picture analysis of what are the processes, what are we doing? Where do we spend most of our time? Where’s the high-value work? Where’s the low-value work? Where’s the high risk? So, we’re actually in parallel trying to do an assessment, which takes time, but it’s really valuable time. I think the value you get after you’ve gone through the exercise can improve efficiency significantly.

“Right now, we’ve begun with that project of analysing data. There’s a big project going on in the background where we are having to actually improve the way we capture data; otherwise, we don’t have any data to analyse, and then we are going to gather that data, collect it and assess, have a look at where is the time being spent, where can we get value out of it. So, we’ve literally gone back to the drawing board to give us the best chance to make the best improvements going forward.”

When undergoing this kind of transformation, Boyd said that a focus on priority is key. At Tabcorp, the team has a list called tab 25, which are projects for the company to “move the needle” from a revenue perspective.

“Every week, we have a look at that tab 25 list, and think about who’s working on what, working in teams, focusing on those, how are we inputting into that? Are we having useful input and just that sense that the business wants us to be involved, not just for legal advice, but beyond that,” he said.

“But I think if we are focused on the company’s priorities and aligned with those, that gets us a lot of the way there.”

Tyas works primarily in tech and privacy and data – and said that in addition to the transformation project, she’s most focused on pushing key cyber security issues to the forefront of people’s minds.

“It’s really important that these issues get the right level of visibility, that we have tone from the top, that the board of directors understand the risks and are educated as to how to manage them,” she said.

“So, it’s about good privacy practices, a high visibility privacy program, and also that education at all levels around how do we approach a data breach, how do we approach these different situations and really being prepared? Because in the world of cyber, it’s not a science; it’s an art, and the risk is always there.”

Key market factors such as inflation and the cost of living are also affecting numerous organisations, including Tabcorp, and the GCs within them.

“I think it’s fair to say that in the wagering category, particularly turnover, and therefore revenue for all wagering operators in Australia and internationally has been softer in the last 12 to 18 months,” Boyd said.

“So we are, as a company, relatively sensitive to the economic environment, and interest rates obviously play a fairly large role in that. But when it comes to the legal team itself, we’re focused on the Tabcorp priorities. So that doesn’t change much.”

The priorities for the Tabcorp legal team specifically are aligned with the organisation’s business strategy, which Kovacevic said helps guide the team.

“It’s really clear to the people on the team what work they’re doing and how to prioritise it. It’s directly linked to the business strategy. So, the business strategy changes every few years, or there might be flux during the time that things are happening in real time, but we really do it by reference to where the business wants to go,” she said.

“What it really means is making it really clear that if the business wants to achieve an objective, these are the specific legal tasks or legal work that we are doing in the background that contribute to that particular task. So, we’ve actually literally listed, for all of our areas of work, the particular tasks that the lawyers are doing to contribute to the strategy.”

As such, the legal team having a seat at the table has meant that the business is better able to achieve goals.

“That can mean different things in different areas of the business. So, for example, we do a lot of attendance on cross-functional working groups. So, lawyers from myself and Tom’s teams will join those cross-functional groups, and we know upfront this is what they want to do and achieve,” Tyas said.

“Do we see any potential issues? Do we need to take it away and have a closer look? Is it something that we think is feasible from a legal and regulatory perspective? Do we see any risk? So those collaborative groups have been working really well, and I think that’s one of the main ways that we contribute in a real-time, efficient way to helping the business achieve their goals.”

The transcript of this podcast episode was slightly edited for publishing purposes. To listen to the full conversation with Ivana Kovacevic, Fiona Tyas, and Tom Boyd, click below: