How to not be ‘pigeonholed’ as a junior counsel
Young lawyers should always look to broaden their professional horizons, one award-nominated legal counsel says.
Lawyers Weekly spoke to NRL legal counsel and finalist in the upcoming Women in Law Awards Charlotte Olsen to find out why you should never feel limited by your first choice in career.
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“Everyone should know that they’re not pigeonholed into one decision once they get there,” she explained recently on The Corporate Counsel Show — an episode in which she also discussed navigating uncertainty as a new in-house lawyer.
Ms Olsen first dabbled in other areas of law to develop a better sense of what her long-term goals would be, and she has previous experience as both a barrister and solicitor before settling into her in-house position with the NRL.
According to Ms Olsen, young professionals can only be confident in their career path if they are willing to “tick off” some other ones.
Try in-house and private
During her time as a junior at a barrister’s chambers, Ms Olsen found that the profession “wasn’t for” her. She wouldn’t have known unless she tried.
“I think anyone should probably go and get private-practice experience, to be honest, before they make a choice to go either way. I found it really helpful, and I got general corporate experience. At Macpherson Kelley, I was really lucky in the sense that I was able to get a taste for everything,” she explained.
“Switching from the private practice to in-house was really interesting and cool to see how a business works and to understand it. Obviously, you come on as a lawyer, but there is this commercial business understanding that you need to learn and develop.”
As an in-house legal counsel, “no two days are ever the same” for Ms Olsen. She said: “I work across all units of our business, which is from ticketing to events, to hospitality, partnerships, football, integrity, [and] legal. There are so many different departments.”
Ms Olsen went on to say that this requires consideration of a lot more stakeholders than private practice work.
“When I say stakeholders, I mean things like your board, your directors, your CEO, your [executives] … I’ve got the clubs, players, our affiliated states; New South Wales Rugby League, Queensland Rugby League. There are so many stakeholders, and it’s really important to balance the different interests, and sometimes it’s quite difficult.
“But understanding how all the different stakeholders work and what they’re trying to achieve is really, really important,” she continued.
According to Ms Olsen, junior lawyers need the confidence to “put their hand up” and seek out more opportunities where they can upskill or refine their skill set.
“It’s really important to be able to have those conversations with your leaders and your mentors at the firms to say, ‘Well, I’m actually kind of interested in IP’, or ‘I’m interested in litigation”, and have those conversations.
“Look, nine out of 10 times, they will try and help you. I think being really forthcoming in what you want to do and trying everything is important,” she advised.
“If you can put your hand up for as many things as you can, definitely do it … it shows that you’re interested in your job and in the business.”
This can sometimes be a complicated balancing act. You wouldn’t want to stray too far from the occupation you were initially hired by your superiors for, Ms Olsen admitted.
“You’re employed to do a job for the business, and then, two, you obviously want to further what you do in your career development. So, I think having two very clear structures; ‘This is my job over here, and this is my plan moving forward’.
“Every young lawyer should have goals and plans in place. Now, the key thing to remember here is that goals and plans are not set in stone. You can change and adapt them as and when you need to because over time, things change, and your goals may change as well,” Ms Olsen concluded.
The transcript of this podcast episode was slightly edited for publishing purposes. To listen to the full conversation with Charlotte Olsen, click below: