In conversation with Lawyers Weekly Infotrack legal counsel and company secretary Elizabeth Duncan reflects on the biggest learning curves that come with a move in-house, how she stays motivated and why it’s so important to maintain the right balance.
Why did you decide to make the move in-house?
I realised that in-house was for me after I was promoted to associate [at my previous firm]. I was excited, but not sure that continuing on the law firm path was for me. I then considered the aspect of my role that I found most rewarding, namely, helping clients achieve their goals and nurturing the relationship, and that in-house was likely to let me work on these aspects at a deeper level.
What have been the most challenging aspects of in-house life?
The transition to in-house life is tricky. I went from having top-tier law firm resources to very little, and sometimes I wish I had my lovely secretary back! That being said, I think the largest challenge is learning to trust your instincts, which develops over time. One trick I use is the “grandmother test” – would I be comfortable with the business selling this product or service to my grandmother? – [which] works every time.
Conversely, what are the most rewarding aspects of your job?
Definitely the mentoring side of the role. I have a small team of three and really enjoy watching younger lawyers gain confidence in advising the business and trusting their instincts.
How do you balance being a company secretary with your other professional duties?
This is a tough one! The company secretary role involves a great deal of admin and attention to detail – it’s not something that you can do by halves. We have shareholders and an employee share trust, which means that there is a good deal of juggling required! That being said, I try to focus on the positive aspects that come with the role. I get a lot of time with the directors nurturing trust, which assists with the advisory part of my role.
What do you do, outside of work, to both unwind and recharge the batteries?
I find unwinding is incredibly important to me. I try to catch 2-3 Barre Body classes a week and take my giant puppy for daily walks (she’s a 45-kilogram lazy Bernese Mountain Dog, so sometimes I’m pulling her around the park!)
What advice would you offer to in-house lawyers about the importance of having extracurricular activities?
Having a life outside of work keeps me grounded and provides perspective when work is stressing me out. Although, I think I need to find more actual hobbies. I don’t think I can say “brunch” is a hobby…