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In-house lawyers must ‘seize opportunities when they come’

There are numerous challenges on the horizon for in-house counsel, and as such, there are numerous steps they must take in order to ensure success, says the newly crowned In-House Lawyer of the Year.

user iconJerome Doraisamy 06 September 2022 Corporate Counsel
In-house lawyers must ‘seize opportunities when they come’
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NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment principal lawyer Jessica Nile (pictured) — who recently won the In-House Lawyer of the Year category at the 2022 Australian Law Awards — said that her award win has given her a platform to show other young lawyers the importance of taking an opportunity when it arises, putting in the hard work and pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone.

It has given her, she told Lawyers Weekly, the chance to showcase the complex, dynamic and rewarding legal work of in-house lawyers — especially those working in government. 

“In-house lawyers have a distinguishable skill set, to provide legal advice with a commercial approach whilst being immersed in the strategy and operation of the business,” she mused.


“It’s so important for in-house lawyers to be recognised for their achievements to provide credibility to their work, demonstrate their value and skills to the business, increase morale within their team and organisation and showcase leadership within their workplace.”

Such recognition may depend on their ability to grasp the opportunities that Ms Nile is seeing on the horizon.

“The rise in technology and automation is a growing trend in the legal sector. In-house lawyers should harness the benefits of technology to automate simple processes which allow more time for deep thinking and strategic planning,” she said.

“There’s also been a trend in the increase of in-house lawyers across NSW, highlighting the importance and value of the skills in-house lawyers can bring to a business. In-house lawyers should capitalise on this trend by continuing to negotiate favourable work conditions and career paths within their business and in the market.”

This said, there are a number of looming challenges that must be grappled with, Ms Nile noted.

Firstly, in-house counsel must be able to prove their holistic value to the business.

“This can be managed by not only recording data (e.g. on matters in and out and complexity) but demonstrating other value that cannot be measured in numbers, including when you have quite literally ‘saved the business’ bacon’,” she said.

“For example, being able to demonstrate preventative training provided to the business to reduce the amount of legal advice being requested or the impact of advice that might have protected the reputation of the business (and potential for financial loss). Measuring value with data is important but it’s equally as important to think about other value adds that cannot be measured in numbers.”

Secondly, Ms Nile went on, counsel must ensure they are proactive rather than reactive.

“In-house lawyers need to be one step in front of the business to anticipate legal risks and pitfalls. Sometimes, this requires managing the priorities of the business so you can focus on solutions before they become problems,” she said.

The sum of these parts puts an in-house counsel in a prime position to achieve success — which, in Ms Nile’s view, constitutes a lawyer who can “wear many hats, not only a legal hat but strategic, operational and commercial hat; develop broad skills (e.g., risk, governance, employment and other specialist areas of the law); deliver complex legal advice in a clear and concise manner; and adapt their communication to different parts of the business”. 

“These skills will enable any legal house lawyer to build rapport, steer the direction of the business and provide advice that is easily understood and implementable,” she submitted.

“A one-size-fits-all approach is outdated and will often result in numerous phone calls trying to explain poorly communicated advice to the business.”

Ultimately, Ms Nile’s key takeaway for in-house lawyers — particularly those coming through the ranks — is that they must “seize the opportunities when they come”.

And, she added, “if it doesn’t work out, you still win, you had the guts to take it on and developed perseverance and resilience along the way”.

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