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Embrace in-house complexity as ‘a benefit and opportunity’
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Embrace in-house complexity as ‘a benefit and opportunity’

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The breadth of practical legal work required of in-house lawyers allows corporate counsel to “excel and challenge perceptions”, rather than being an overwhelming hurdle, argues the winner of the 2019 Corporate Counsel Excellence Award.

Speaking to Lawyers Weekly, WaterNSW regulatory and corporate strategy adviser Dr Madeline Hartley (pictured) said that “in-house lawyers wear many hats”, and this need to be everything to everyone should be welcomed by counsel as an opportunity rather than a challenge.

“We should embrace this complexity as a benefit and an opportunity. I guess I actually see one of the major challenges as an opportunity to excel and change perceptions,” she explained.

This being said, there are challenges that can and do plague legal counsel, she noted.

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“In my experience, a major challenge for in-house lawyers has been building connections within the business and marketing value so as to be viewed as a partner to successful implementation, rather than a roadblock,” Dr Hartley reflected.

“Of course, in-house legal must be independent, but this shouldn’t prevent you seeking to understand the business drivers from a practical perspective.”

Looking ahead in 2019 and beyond, there are “always opportunities” for those in this space or lawyers looking to move laterally.

“I think the in-house space is undergoing a shift in terms of how it is perceived and recognised within businesses and private practice, and this itself brings opportunities. Recent inquiries at state and federal levels all offer learning opportunities for the profession and remind us of the value we add in-house,” she posited.

“In-house lawyers should look to pivot off these learnings to build awareness and recognition for the role we play as a service provider to our respective businesses. There is also an opportunity to invest more in the use of technology in-house, from eDiscovery platforms to collaboration sites. We hear a lot about technology changing the nature of law firms and in-house is no different – we should be at the forefront of embracing that change as the business around us also seeks to innovate.”

Looking broadly at present and looming challenges and opportunities, Dr Hartley said in-house life is still “excellent” for creative and pragmatic lawyers looking to expand their skills and make a practical difference in the business world.

“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 argued.

“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.”

Last week, Lawyers Weekly published an interview with Dr Hartley in which she 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.

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