As the end of 2018 looms ever closer, 2019’s in-house challenges share both harmonies and dissonance with those affecting private practice, according to one of the winners of the recently held Women in Law Awards.
Young Gun of the Year, and corporate legal counsel for Thales Australia, Lena Chapple, has given a critical, yet positive and empowering glimpse into some of the obstacles affecting corporate counsel now and for the future.
According to Ms Chapple, more flexibility and commerciality is required by in-house counsels, both in the way they work and the solutions they deliver.
She considered the finding of “the balance between satisfying commercial pressures, and ensuring that you never make sacrifices on ethics or the law in doing so.”
“You must be more than just a lawyer, but a lawyer first and foremost,” she explained.
While comparing in-house challenges with those of her private practice peers, Ms Chapple noted the “real successes” of private practice’s recent support of pro bono, flexible work, diversity and inclusion.
“The face and nature of the profession is changing, with young lawyers valuing who they are, their non-work lives and their contribution to their personal and professional communities more and more,” she exclaimed.
In acknowledging that, she conceded “in-house is perhaps just a small step behind private practice in this regard, and faces the challenge in 2019 of investing in meaningful measures to ensure we can be a movement of positive change in our businesses and profession.”
For this pursuit, Ms Chapple said her colleagues in the in-house space “should be looking at improving access to pro bono opportunities, assessing diversity at in-house leadership levels, and modernising how we invest in in-house counsel,” as well as the fostering of how work is done.
Ms Chapple also believes in-house counsel “must embrace change and learn to move with it more than their private practice counterparts,” with business and technology changes requiring the profession to also change.
She gave the example of lawyers in the cyber security space learning “fundamentals (at least) about big data, data security, cyber risks and core cyber security practices.”
Similarly, “construction and engineering in-house counsel must understand the basics of what their teams are delivering, the engineering, project delivery and risks.”
Highlighting legal technology as another big challenge, Ms Chapple said “there is no doubt the legal function needs to change to become more efficient and to embrace AI, and other technologies that will improve efficiency and accuracy, but identifying the right changes and implementing them is proving a big challenge.”
Of note too, is the challenging job for in-house legal professionals “of educating their businesses on global data protection regulation (a fast-evolving beast), and helping to identify the risks and increasingly significant consequences of data breaches.”
“Until we understand where and what our cyber risks are,” Ms Chapple warned, “we cannot help our businesses manage them.”
As companies invest more heavily in their in-house teams, Ms Chapple said there is less reliance on the use of external firms and counsel.
In 2018 and beyond, she noted that “this presents a challenge to in-house counsel as we walk the fine line of whether to brief something out, or to manage it internally,” as expectations of in-house counsel grow with more pressure placed on managing matters internally.
On this note, Ms Chapple said that “capacity and expertise will always mean there is a need for external support.”
However, “in the same vein, as the role of the in-house lawyer changes, so too must that of the private practice lawyer,” Ms Chapple conceded.
“Everyone in-house will know the difficulty being faced at present to try and make firms adapt to the ways of working companies need: from fee models, to delivery,” she explained.
The lawyer perceives that “there is significant transformation needed, but little real change forthcoming.”