Law schools are increasingly cognisant of the need to promote a broad spectrum of vocational opportunities, but there needs to be more discussion of corporate counsel roles as a potential path, according to a Sydney-based legal counsel.
Speaking to Lawyers Weekly, Coca-Cola Amatil legal counsel Jessie Porteus said that given the “rise of the in-house lawyer”, life as a corporate counsel is becoming a more well-known and promising career option for those in the legal profession.
“However, the industry should do more to inform law students. I believe students would jump at the chance of working in-house at an organisation they really believe in,” she said.
“We owe it to ourselves in the in-house community to spread the word of in-house as an amazing career option for new lawyers.”
Universities and the in-house community can and should work together to ensure knowledge about various opportunities and the vocational pros and cons trickles down to law students who are considering their next steps.
“We could achieve this by speaking at events, participating in careers fairs, and advocating for a greater presence of in-house style learning during law degrees, so that students are exposed to commercially-minded legal thinking and problem solving,” she mused.
Such a strategy would be crucial at an educational level, she argued, as she herself learned — when Ms Porteus left BigLaw to start her in-house career — that corporate counsel don’t necessarily have to know all the answers, but they do need to know the right questions to ask.
“Deep knowledge of the business, and excellent communication skills and relationships with your ‘client colleagues’, all help one to become more commercial and less legal,” she explained.
She said she had to change from being a specialised intellectual property lawyer to more of an “all-rounder” once she moved in-house, demonstrating the need for targeted training for those considering a career as a corporate counsel.
“Suddenly, I was working on absolutely everything with a legal flavor that came across my desk,” she said.
“It is exhilarating to be challenged with different situations every day and have to think about both the legal and commercial solutions. No two days are the same.”
And with the “variety of work and the different challenges everyday as an in-house lawyer”, Ms Porteus posited that it is imperative that those coming through the ranks understand and appreciate not just the value of such a vocational avenue, but how best to get there.
“[Being] in-house means that you can become a commercial business person, who happens to have a law degree,” she concluded.
“You can have an amazing level of influence across your organisation on anything from strategy to the next tagline for a product — and that is fun as well as satisfying!”