Lawyers Weekly spoke with a handful of legal counsel coming through the ranks about the challenges and opportunities for younger practitioners in the coming year. This is the first half of that discussion.
The Australian legal profession is “truly seeing the rise of the in-house counsel now”, and with that comes a lot of hype and interest in our corner of the profession, according to Coca-Cola Amatil in-house counsel and The Learned Crew founder Jessie Porteus.
“This means more in-house products and services are being created and offered to us than ever before, more innovative solutions to legal problems are being trialled and implemented, and more collaboration is occurring across the in-house profession and indeed across the industry as we all ask ourselves: ‘How can we do better for our clients and be more than just lawyers?’,” she said.
“I think this is all creating a snowball effect - the more we strive to be better for our clients and be more than just lawyers, the more we create opportunities for ourselves, as our clients want more and more of it. That is why it is an exciting time to be in-house.”
Electrical Trades Union of Australia national legal counsel Alana Heffernan said the sociocultural and political movements would also impact the work coming through in the following year.
“With an election looking certain to fall in the first half of 2019, it will be an exciting time for in house lawyers, particularly for those work in practice areas and/or for organisations at the forefront of politics,” she explained.
“For example, in house lawyers working in the finance industry will likely be dealing with a raft of regulatory changes and its shaping up to be an explosive year for employment law, with the Change the Rules movement picking up serious momentum in the lead up to the election.”
There are also many changes in the professional marketplace at the moment, InfoTrack legal counsel and company secretary Elizabeth Duncan added, with companies moving more functions in house and skilling up their inhouse functions.
“The variety and quality of the work is improving, and I think our business partners are understanding the real value their in-house counsel can add,” she noted.
That value to be added presents certain opportunities for counsel, particularly in light of the current climate, Ms Heffernan noted.
“With potentially major changes to the law, including the regulation of the finance industry and the potential overhaul of the employment law system, it will be a good opportunity for junior lawyers to learn new skills and be involved in interesting matters,” she said.
“Organisations will be relying on the knowledge and advice of their counsel to deal with the changes.”
“Younger, more junior in-house counsel can bring their eager attitude, energy, passion, technological skills, and creativity, to ignite innovation and collaboration within their legal team and for their clients, and to initiate change,” Ms Porteus added.
“For example, our legal team's use of memes on our internal company social media page has enabled us to get complex legal messages across in an engaging way that resonates with our client audience.”
More in-house teams are advancing with their use of technology, University of Tasmania legal counsel Theo Kapodistrias said, such as contract automation and matter management systems.
“I think 2019 will allow in-house lawyers to get the opportunity to step away from some of the more routine work and get involved in more strategic and business critical work. Millennials will play a big role in being able to implement and use the new software as we have a good grasp of technology,” he said.
Mr Kapodistrias noted there are opportunities for more junior in-house counsel to get involved with some major projects which their business is running. Junior lawyers would get more autonomy and client interaction and have the opportunity to get involved with matters that are of critical importance to their workplace, he posited.
“Working in-house means you get to see a variety of different work from all over the business, so it is always a mystery what type of legal matter you may get to deal with.”
Part Two of this discussion will feature in next week’s Corporate Counsel bulletin.