Success in-house requires support, passion and knowledge
WaterNSW regulatory and corporate strategy adviser Dr Madeleine Hartley has reflected that her own success as a legal counsel has resulted from a three-fold approach: people investing in her, utilisation of her passions, and expanding her own knowledge in order to grow and excel.
Speaking to Lawyers Weekly after winning the Excellence Award at last week’s Corporate Counsel Awards, Dr Hartley said she started her legal career with a dream of being a “water lawyer”, which wasn’t a well-established practice area at the time, and remains so today.
“I feel strongly that lawyers should embrace their differences and in so doing help the profession evolve. I also believe that diverse careers are becoming more appreciated and can help integrate often separate branches of the same tree,” she explained.
“For example, my background in academia and private practice has given me broad understanding and context that I consistently draw on to navigate the different spaces and disciplines I work across.”
Lawyers tend to be naturally curious, Dr Hartley continued, noting that her “main piece of advice” would be to use that curiosity to build relationships within a business.
“Get to know what drives the business and keeps people at all levels across the business awake at night. Understanding the context in which the business operates – from the strategic issues at the top to the on-ground practical challenges – is essential to giving timely and pragmatic legal advice,” she said.
“For me, this has included looking outside the law to professional opportunities in related spaces. I would strongly encourage in-house lawyers to think creatively about how they can value-add, including through those less obvious channels. Also, take every opportunity you’re given, regardless of how sharp a left turn it feels. You never know where those opportunities might take you.”
Working as a lawyer in-house is “an excellent opportunity for creative and pragmatic lawyers to expand their skills and make a practical difference in the business world”, she posited.
“Working to resolve complex legal problems from the start all the way through to completion and seeing the business outcome is incredibly satisfying. A sound understanding of the business will help you value-add throughout the process so you can highlight improvement opportunities and efficiency gains,” she said.
“Lawyers bring many skillsets to the table and in-house legal offers the opportunity to expand and utilise so many of these at once. In-house legal also allows you to embrace your difference and use it to your advantage, and the space is always looking for game-changers who are ready to provide this additional extra on top of sound legal skills.”
On a personal level, Dr Hartley said winning the Excellence Award was “incredibly humbling”.
“I’m truly passionate about the water law space and have had an amazing opportunity to work in this field through some turbulent times. This award is an acknowledgment of the tireless hours all my colleagues have spent on the substantial body of work that is water reform, and in that respect this award also recognises the hard work and multidisciplinary nature of the WaterNSW team of experts,” she said.
“Professionally, this award gives me confidence in how I envisage and perform my role in terms of providing pragmatic and strategic advice. I’m privileged to work across two fields that I feel strongly about and to have the merger of those fields recognised through this award excites me about the future of the water law space in Australia.”