The winner of the 2018 In-house Legal Team of the Year at the recent Australian Law Awards has shed some light on what it means to be at the top of the in-house game.
REA Group Legal benefits from a fostered culture of innovation where employees are actively encouraged to “reimagine what they’re working on,” said general counsel for REA Group Legal, Sarah Turner.
Ms Turner said the team is thrilled to be recognised for the work that has occurred over the past 18 months in finding “better ways to work, managing risk, and building rich relationships within the REA business.”
It has resulted in the team supporting a 34 per cent year-on-year growth in share price for REA, made possible through “tactical acquisitions, developing new data and AI capabilities, a focus on excellence in governance of customer information and taking new consumer and customer products to market with incredible speed,” said senior legal counsel James Hutchins.
The team’s focus on creating products and investing in their people has also enabled three members of the in-house team to move on to general counsel roles in the past 12 months.
The key point of difference for REA, said Ms Turner, is that members of REA’s legal team sit on different ‘line of business’ leadership teams within the company, ensuring “REA’s lawyers are immersed in and contribute to the commercial strategy of the business, have early visibility of issues before they arise and develop strong relationships within the business.”
To ensure lawyers and stakeholders are all “singing from the same hymn sheet”, Ms Turner said “each lawyer prepares a legal strategy each year which aligns with the strategy of their dedicated line of business.”
With lawyers embedded within different business lines, “we have great line of sight across the business and can leverage the best ways of working the business has to offer,” Ms Turner continued.
“We’ve learned from our development squads and adopted aspects of agile methodologies to change the way we operate.”
This has been especially important considering recent major shifts in the privacy landscape, and the REA Group Legal team expects “the bar will continue to rise as regulators respond to rapidly evolving technology and the proliferation of data.”
The team embeds “privacy by design” into all of its new products and systems, and rolled out comprehensive enterprise-wide training on mandatory data breach notification and consumer law compliance, Ms Turner said.
She highlighted the financial services royal commission and a series of privacy scandals (inclusive of Cambridge Analytica), as demonstrative of “a significant gulf between the expectations of consumers and the organisations that service them.”
Generally speaking, she said that “in house teams will need to look beyond their traditional legal compliance and risk management role and help their business stakeholders to act lawfully, ethically and in a socially responsible manner.
“Throw in the financial services royal commission, the ACCC’s Digital Platforms Enquiry, and the draft Consumer Data Right Bill and it’s clear that in-house lawyers, particularly in digital businesses, will have plenty to challenge them over the next year,” Ms Turner said.
For REA Legal Group, the next 12 months will see them continue to build on the work of “Project Hoover”, a legal process improvement project that Ms Turner said can identify and implement “initiatives which could save time and improve the experience of our internal clients.”
Reflecting on the project’s success, Ms Turner says the team will be looking to leverage some of the learnings from Project Hoover across REA Group’s global businesses.
It comes after the successful deliverance of ‘the Claiminator’ this year, which comprises a list of pre-approved REA market leadership claims to enable marketing self-service. Launched with the slogan ‘Claiminate, don’t litigate’, Ms Turner said the tool was accessed more than 400 times in the first six months, which saved an estimated 350 hours of lawyer time.
The team also advised on the acquisition of Hometrack, a provider of property data services and Automated Valuation Models, acquisition of the Smartline mortgage broking network, the launch of short term co-working space Spacely, and the development of realestate.com.au Home Loans to provide an end-to-end home loans solution for online conditional approval through NAB.
Ms Turner noted REA’s legal eagles were a regular fixture at REA ‘hack days’, where they would run a legal help desk for hack day participants, showcasing their passion for sharing of REA knowledge in the tech sector.
Summing this up, Ms Turner reflected on the business’ focus on “creating great products and investing in our people.”
“Large corporations increasingly have a role to play in influencing our social, political and legal landscape,” she said.
“Consumers expect that companies are authentic and live and breathe their corporate values, rather than simply putting empty words on a website.”