In the second half of our discussion with a handful of legal counsel coming through the ranks, we delve more into the challenges facing young counsel as they head into 2019.
This 2019 will be an exciting time to be in-house, Vodafone corporate counsel (technology) Eleanor Wheelhouse said, especially for those whose work puts them at the frontline of the intersection between law, business and technology.
But while all the legal counsel we spoke to agreed that the year ahead will offer opportunities for those emerging in legal departments, they also acknowledged there are particular challenges ahead as well.
Electrical Trades Union of Australia national legal counsel Alana Heffernan identified the need for a greater focus on mental health issues: “Even though there are strong structures being built in law firms to foster lawyers’ health, it’s not always the case for in-house lawyers. We are often a small team and work in organisations dominated by non-lawyers.”
“Accordingly, the issues particular to legal practitioners may not be addressed through your organisations’ mental health strategies. This is why it is important to build a strong network in the industry,” she said.
InfoTrack legal counsel and company secretary Elizabeth Duncan agreed, noting: “My experience has shown me how important my initial training at one of the big firms was, not only technically, but also for resilience.”
Not dissimilarly, Coca-Cola Amatil in-house counsel and The Learned Crew founder Jessie Porteus said there is often little time for training, and therefore mentoring, of new or junior lawyers in the space.
“A lot of the training is on the job. So those new to the in-house profession should be aware of this and ready for the ride! Secondly, one of the things I really missed when I left my law firm was the company of lots of other lawyers! With a small legal team, the lawyers are in the minority in the organisation – so make sure you connect with your team (they are the best support network) and also make sure you connect across the in-house profession,” she suggested.
University of Tasmania legal counsel Theo Kapodistrias said there will always be consistent challenges, such as trying to deal with many competing priorities and dealing with many different people from across the business.
“I think the challenges of working in-house such as clients expecting matters to be completed urgently or getting engaged at the last minute can be turned around through educating the business what the role of legal is, or even working in a different way,” he mused.
In the face of such challenges, Ms Wheelhouse suggested that the best way to approach this “is to build strong relationships with your stakeholders to ensure that they include you at the infancy stages of projects so that deals are built with an understanding of the legal and regulatory requirements at the outset.”
“Be interested in, and stay on top of, the legal reform that affects your practice area or your organisation’s industry. It keeps your knowledge and skills up-to-date and also shows that you care about how the law affects your work and the organisation.” Ms Heffernan added.
“Lawyers who stay interested in the legal reform that affects their organization, and come up with new ways to address it, will be highly valued in their workplace."
You can read the first part of this story here.