Navigating economic downturns as an in-house lawyer

By Jerome Doraisamy|14 May 2019

A general counsel explained how navigating a fluctuating economic climate helps in-house lawyers further develop their practical and business skills, which will be “easily transferable” for future work.

BGC Group general counsel Belinda Murray, who recently won the Industrial, Materials and Manufacturing Lawyer of the Year Award at the Lawyers Weekly Corporate Counsel Awards, said economic downturns – particularly in Western Australia – present “a number of challenges” for the lawyers in her team.

“The primary legal challenge that I have dealt with on a daily basis over the last 12 months lies in continuing to assist the business to assess and manage legal risks whilst continuing to maintain market share and win work in an increasingly cost-competitive environment,” she said.

“In 2019, any economic downturn will bring challenges in this space given the nature of competition for market share in this industry and the relevant markets for raw material inputs upstream and the various downstream markets into which this industry supplies, including the commercial and residential construction markets.”

Such issues and challenges, however, have illuminated the importance of effective management and collaboration within the context of her business, Ms Murray noted.

“During my tenure as general counsel of the BGC Group, I have found it is a proven formula to work closely with internal and external stakeholders in providing legal support, and remain focused on the commercial and operational imperatives of the business to assist the business to make informed ‘best for project’ decisions that balance operational, commercial and legal risks whilst maintaining and, ideally, increasing market share,” she said.

Not only this, but the products used in the industrial, materials and manufacturing industries are used or are found in “almost all aspects of everyday life”, meaning that on top of the challenge of navigating economic factors outside of the business’ control, there is great scope for in-house lawyers to develop their own skills.

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“Experience in this industry gives lawyers invaluable insight into the legal and commercial risks involved in the manufacturing and material supply chains, as well as the sale and use of end-products and requires a diversity of legal skills to support the broad range of industries associated with materials and manufacturing,” Ms Murray posited.

“Working in-house in this industry presents a unique opportunity for lawyers to work side-by-side with key commercial decision makers and other specialists involved in running a materials and manufacturing business, including tax and financial advisors. Given the global nature of our industry, skills developed by in-house lawyers in this area are easily transferable across borders for those looking to move or work interstate or overseas.”

Given the “diverse nature of the industrial, materials and manufacturing industry”, she continued, lawyers who work in this space “not only gain an in depth understanding of legal and commercial risks which may arise in a materials and manufacturing context but also an appreciation of (and expertise in) the downstream industries which acquire and use the products of this industry”, she said.

“I have found that this gives our in-house lawyers a unique perspective on the support required by the materials and manufacturing businesses and the ability to provide legal input in a commercially focused manner, as well as extensive experience in the legal and commercial challenges facing not only our industry, but the industries of our raw input suppliers and downstream customers,” she concluded.

Navigating economic downturns as an in-house lawyer
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