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Know when to say you don’t know the answer

Part of being a successful in-house counsel is understanding how to balance pragmatism and commerciality against a need for efficiency and optimal wellness, says Will Daymond.

user iconJerome Doraisamy 08 September 2020 Corporate Counsel
Will Daymond
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One of the reasons that Associated British Foods Group APAC group legal counsel Mr Daymond went in-house, he says, was a desire for greater work-life balance.

He has been able to achieve that, he told Lawyers Weekly, but one thing he subsequently learned is that life in-house is simultaneously much busier as well.

Speaking on The Corporate Counsel Show, Mr Daymond – who recently won the In-House Lawyer of the Year category at the Australian Law Awards – said legal counsel never know what will come across their desks or what such requests will relate to and whether or not they have the answer.


In light of this, counsel have to “try not to overstress, because if you start overstressing, you start thinking the mountain of work is too much,” he warned.

“You need to get out of that mentality and start breaking things down into priorities, talking to other members of your team and seeing if they can help out, and briefing things out to external legal counsel, where possible. Anything which can help manage your workload,” he advised.

This extends, he continued, to knowing when to acknowledge that one may not have the requisite expertise to complete a given task within a requested timeframe.

One example Mr Daymond pointed to was a deep dive he undertook into the Plumbing Code of Australia a while back, in which he took the time to examine that code with a fine toothcomb, liaise with relevant experts and then got to a point where he felt he could properly advise his employer on the stated issues and move to work around those issues.

“You should never be expected to be all-knowing or to always have the answer. There will, therefore, always be a need to be honest and say you don’t know the answer [if and when that is the case] and that you are going to have to look at it further,” he said.

“In private practice, you always want to try to make things perfect because you’re providing advice to the in-house lawyer or the business and you’ve got time to go through in detail, making sure there [are] no spelling mistakes, making sure you’ve considered every single issue. When you go in-house, you don’t necessarily have that ability or freedom, given the amount of emails you might get day in, day out, the amount of people who will come across your desk. Its hard to give that level of quality which you would normally expect.”

In-house lawyers should, thus, adopt an 80-20 rule, Mr Daymond advised, “where you want to make sure that you provide [good-quality] work, but it might not be at your best, and that’s okay, because if you try to give 100 per cent, youre not going to get through everything, and theres a high chance that the business might sort of get annoyed, frustrated, upset, because therell be constantly chasing you for a piece of work.”

“It’s about being pragmatic and commercial with your advice, making sure you give the business what they’re actually wanting, but also trying to make your work more efficient and not getting overwhelmed with the volume of work coming in,” he said.

To listen to the full episode with Will Daymond, click below:


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