Going above and beyond as an in-house lawyer
One legal and risk officer discusses how being a good in-house lawyer means understanding the full organisation and how the current landscape has affected the role of in-house lawyers.
Recently on The Corporate Counsel Show, host Jerome Doraisamy spoke with Investa chief legal and risk officer Lesley Chan.
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Being a good lawyer is no longer enough in general counsel and chief legal officer positions, argued Ms Chan.
“If you’re fortunate to be in a broad practice, there’s value in understanding the full life cycle of different needs within your business and contributing your legal knowledge towards that,” she highlighted.
“Without that background understanding of what your business is actually doing, and how a lawyer should contribute to parts of that, you can’t really be effective at your job.”
“Training lawyers to be more end-to-end is something which is sought after,” she noted.
“A good lawyer is somebody who does understand the full end-to-end spectrum of what the business does and has the curiosity to ask if they don’t know.
“This ultimately culminates in getting involved wherever is needed, such that when someone comes to you with a question, you can pinpoint where it is on the spectrum.
“Not everything is going to be done by you, but at least to be able to redirect that traffic, or know who you need to outsource that piece of work to.”
Ms Chan continued to discuss the expansive role of in-house lawyers.
“I’ve always held the philosophy that lawyers do more than just advice.
“There’s no point giving a beautiful piece of advice, which is then just put away in a bottom cupboard, never to see the light of day again,” she said.
“Partnering with the business is absolutely essential to be a really good lawyer.”
“For in-house teams, the value of understanding the business and how you’re going to navigate the advice together, or regulation, pieces of law or contracts,” she noted.
Ms Chan discussed how the current landscape had affected the role of in-house lawyers.
“The environment as a whole has shifted, where risk and compliance law has had some light shone on it — it’s no longer enough to have a team doing something in the background, which is not lived and breathed by absolutely everybody in the organisation,” explained Ms Chan.
“Be that advocate and make sure that, at the end of the day, understanding the risk is everybody’s problem.”
“My personal philosophy is I’d much rather spend the time explaining and making sure we get things right at the outset because I hate cleaning, so I don’t like mopping up problems,” said Ms Chan.
“It’s so much easier to be proactive, in really understanding your business and working with different people to make sure you set it up to help prevent problems in the future — that is even more the case now in the current environment.”
Ms Chan discussed how to be an effective in-house lawyer.
“The law is just one aspect of a multifaceted decision that the business is trying to make as a whole,” explained Ms Chan.
“If you’re just looking at one aspect of it, you will actually not get a good outcome — the reality of lawyers who see their role as to advice will end up being stuck in terms of being effective.”
“We work across the entire business, and are in a unique position to identify, from a governance perspective, the things which might need to improve for that longer-term shift,” Ms Chan highlighted.
Ms Chan continued: “I keep telling my guys, ‘I’ve got a vested interest in making sure you really understand, so I don’t have to tidy this up down the track.’”
“You really are integrated and part of the company’s DNA, with all the different teams.”
The transcript of this podcast episode was slightly edited for publishing purposes. To listen to the full conversation with Lesley Chan, click below: