Celebrating Women in Law’s In-house Lawyer of the Year

By Grace Ormsby|27 November 2018

Working for an organisation where 93 per cent of its workforce is male has presented some unique challenges and experiences for Lucas Total Contract Solutions’ legal counsel Melissa Davies.

The winner of the 2018 Women in Law Awards In-house Lawyer of the Year was “thrown into the deep end” when her legal manager resigned 12 months ago, making it an extremely busy year for Ms Davies, who has since been working as the sole lawyer for the civil construction and mining company.

In that time, she has “fast-tracked” her industry knowledge, having reviewed more than 200 contracts, increased monetary thresholds for purchase orders, created a joint-venture with an Indigenous corporation, settled four major disputes before reaching litigation, implemented new processes business-wide and created subcontract templates, among her other day-to-day duties and job requirements.

The 2018 Women in Law Awards In-house Lawyer of the Year spoke exclusively with Lawyers Weekly after taking out the award, reflecting on her win, and thinking about the challenges and opportunities affecting the in-house space.

First of all, congratulations on being named in-house lawyer of the year! How does it feel?

Thank you, it feels amazing! I feel incredibly grateful to have received the award and I’ve been blown away by the support and encouragement I’ve received from my company and the legal community.

How did you enjoy the night?

The night was so much fun. It was really empowering seeing and hearing from so many high-achieving women in the legal sector and it was great to see so many men attending and supporting women in the legal industry. The atmosphere was great and I shared many laughs with some fabulous women on my table whom I had met for the first time that night.

What does your job look like on a day-to-day basis?

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Being an in-house lawyer at a civil construction and mining company means my day looks different every single day.

Some days involve the reviewing of contracts, the drafting of joint venture agreements and the resolutions of disputes and other days involve me donning my steel cap boots, throwing on my high vis and walking around sites.

I can never predict who will walk into my office and what assistance they may need and whilst there may be a lot of chaos, there’s also a lot of variety which keeps me engaged and passionate about my job.

What do you like about the in-house space?

My favourite thing about the in-house space is being able to work with and learn from a diverse range of people. I also really enjoy the commercial decision making and problem solving that is required on a daily basis.

What do you see as the biggest challenges for in-house lawyers in the next year?

As more and more businesses begin to see the value in employing in-house lawyers, I believe the biggest challenge for those in-house will be an ever-growing job description and more responsibility placed on them by the businesses that employ them.

Likewise, what do you consider as the biggest opportunities in the in-house space?

The biggest opportunity for lawyers in the in-house space is the same as the biggest challenges for in-house lawyers, an ever-growing job description and more responsibility!

An in-house lawyer in today’s legal industry needs a completely different skill set to what a lawyer needed 10 or 20 years ago. Communication and leadership skills are vital to success as an in-house lawyer.

These skills paired with technical legal skills are transferable across many aspects of a business and therefore, I believe in-house lawyers will have more and more opportunities to move into senior roles and be recognised as leaders within their organisations.

How do you feel about the role of in-house lawyers rising in prominence and importance for Australian businesses?

I think it’s great that in-house lawyers are rising in prominence and importance for Australian businesses.

In-house lawyers can provide so much more to businesses than strictly the law and billable hours can sometimes cap the contribution that lawyers can make. There is a really positive culture and cross-pollination of information among fellow in-house lawyers that can’t be replicated by lawyers in different firms.

I’m not surprised that Australian businesses are seeing the value of utilising lawyers as employees within their organisations – but I am completely biased, of course!

The 2018 Women in Law Awards was held last Thursday at Sofitel Melbourne on Collins, to celebrate the women who have challenged, influenced or enhanced the practise of law in Australia. Click here to see the full list of winners

Celebrating Women in Law’s In-house Lawyer of the Year
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