‘I have the greatest job in the world’
According to this in-house lawyer, having variety and autonomy in her days has made her job the best in the world.
Virginia Crawter is the head of legal and also the company secretary at Main Sequence. Speaking on a recent episode of The Corporate Counsel Show, she revealed how she’d crafted her own adventure in-house, as well as some of the challenges of being an in-house venture capital lawyer.
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Ms Crawter started her legal career in the space of intellectual property law before working in London and transitioning to in-house work over there.
“I worked for a global telco for a few years in London before coming back to Australia and taking up a job with CSIRO before becoming involved with Main Sequence. So even though private practice wasn’t my calling, I did love the foundational kind of legal training that it gave me. And being boxed in a particular practice or specialty on a linear career trajectory never really appealed to me,” she said.
“So back in 2016, CSIRO, which is Australia’s national science agency, was tasked with building a venture capital fund to drive deep tech commercialisation. I put my hand up for the challenge, perhaps naively thinking it would be a fairly short-term project. And eight years later, with quite a few funds and even more portfolio companies and quite a lot of capital under management, I’m now head of legal at Main Sequence Ventures. And after that meandering journey, I feel like I’ve finally found my home.”
Being in-house also means that Ms Crawter is able to do more than just provide legal advice.
“I wanted to understand what happens next rather than just providing some advice in a vacuum and lobbying it back over the fence to a client. I wanted to understand what happened next. So when the client takes the advice and considers the risks and the issues across a broader commercial context, what decision they made in the environment of that advice and just see it play out,” she added.
“So I wanted to see what happened next, and I wanted to continue to practise law because I also realised quite early on that business was not for me; law was for me. And so, in that broader context, working in-house feels like having the best of both worlds. It feels like an opportunity to provide technical advice and then see how that is played out in a commercial context. And for me, that’s the real bit that I love about my job.”
As a venture capital lawyer, Ms Crawter also said there are currently a number of different headline challenges on the horizon she has to be abreast of.
“The VC industry as a whole is experiencing a bit of a course correction as a result of inflated valuations over the last couple of years. So, there’s certainly a bit of a hiccup in our industry in terms of what the market looks like. In saying that, great companies will always be funded, and investors will also always know where a great VC fund is to manage their capital. In our experience, there’s certainly no shortage of great deals.
“There’s certainly no shortage of capital, but I would expect that to perhaps change in the coming months to the coming year. The other thing that I think most in-house lawyers are feeling is the talent shortage in Australia. So, I’m not quite sure where all the lawyers have gone, but it feels like a bit of a brain drain within the local market, particularly as people that have been in lockdown for a couple of years, finally get to do some travel and get to do some overseas work. So, definitely some talent challenges,” she said.
Despite these challenges, and while Ms Crawter admits she may be a bit biased, she truly enjoys the variety of being an in-house VC lawyer and said no day is the same.
“I think I have the greatest job in the world. I don’t have a typical day. I can give you some broad-brush statements about what it might look like any day of the week. So, on Monday, we have a team day and we try to meet in person because we’re a just-dispersed team. And then the rest of it is a bit of a free for all. So, I never really know what my day will look like. I usually have a pretty good idea, but typically where I start the day and where I finish the day are fairly different points. A lot of what I do is managing the investment side of our funds, so managing deals, managing risks for portfolio companies, helping to structure our funds and raise capital,” she said.
“I also do a bit of governance work and compliance work, which, even though it’s possibly not the most exciting, it’s also still incredibly important and definitely underpins everything else in the business. I have an incredible degree of autonomy and high ownership over the work that I do, which is something that I love. I know it’s not for everyone, but it’s certainly something that I appreciate, and the work is incredibly dynamic. It’s such a blessing to work with incredibly passionate people every day.”
The transcript of this podcast episode was slightly edited for publishing purposes. To listen to the full conversation with Virginia Crawter, click below: