‘You have to be comfortable watching fires burn’, says GC
The general counsel for an Australian tech start-up has discussed the skills that are inextricably linked to success for in-house lawyers in innovative companies and industries.
Jennifer Mulheron recently joined Jerome Doraisamy on an episode of The Corporate Counsel Show, during which she spoke about how private practice M&A prepared her for a role as an in-house lawyer in an innovative tech company, and the skills necessary for lawyers — now and into the future.
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Ms Mulheron works for harrison.ai, a tech company seeking to revolutionise healthcare across the globe. The company builds start-ups that are developing, commercialising and deploying AI diagnostic assist tools in different medical areas.
For Ms Mulheron, a lot of time is spent building start-ups with joint venture partners and getting them on their way.
“There are myriad things to work through, all against the backdrop of quite a regulated environment, where we are handling vast waves of data,” she said.
She discussed the unique skillsets and attitudes needed when working in such an environment.
There is a large volume of different issues, which all feel quite critical and high priority, she said.
Becoming comfortable with the inability to go through all of them, and therefore, becoming comfortable with a few things breaking is a key skill, she said.
“You have to be comfortable watching fires burn,” she said.
“You learn to be able to zero in on the bushfire that is closest to your house, and that is what you put out on any given day.
“It always feels like there are a million hurdles,” she added, but it teaches you to “zero in on the things that cannot break.”
She noted that this philosophy is in stark contrast from private practice thinking, where you sit at a desk preparing advice, and when it is sent off, it is cleared from the to-do list.
Ms Mulheron reflected on how private practice prepared her for work as an in-house lawyer.
“We are in the business of building companies — that involves negotiating transactions, and a strong understanding of corporate law,” she said.
Ms Mulheron noted that her ability to triage different types of issues has served her.
“A well-trained corporate lawyer is a jack-of-all trades, but master of none,” she said, “You know a bit about everything, but more importantly, you know when you need to call in the cavalry.”
“You are well trained in issue spotting early, problem solving early, and knowing what experts you need.
“The majority of issues that I touch on week to week, I am certainly not the expert in, but what I bring is the ability to problem solve regardless of the issue at hand,” she said.
“For all of those M&A lawyers out there looking for a role in-house or a GC role at a scale up like harrison.ai — go for it,” she said, “Your training will put you in such good stead.”
Ms Mulheron noted that in the current business environment, lawyers need to be increasingly adaptable, “the fastest growing companies right now are the ones solving important and large issues in different ways,” she said.
“Legal issues and risk-related issues and governance-related issues that pop up for companies now are so varied and can be quite complex — there is no rule book.”
Companies are looking for lawyers who can roll their sleeves up and grapple with things that are not just legal issues, she said.
“At harrison.ai, we are building the plane as we fly — that is the kind of mentality that you need to start developing the muscle for.”
The transcript of this podcast episode was slightly edited for publishing purposes. To listen to the full conversation with Jennifer Mulheron, click below: