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How emerging in-house lawyers can develop commercial know-how

Commercial skills take time to develop. Here, three award-winning and nominated young corporate lawyers reflect on the importance of broadening one’s professional offering and how to do it.

user iconJerome Doraisamy 14 May 2024 Corporate Counsel
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When transitioning to an in-house role, Foxtel Group legal counsel Calli Tsipidis reflected, it “quickly becomes apparent that you need to know the ins and outs of the business”.

This includes a business’s products, services, jargon, people, and processes – and one needs to know them “like the back of your hand, in order to give effective legal advice”, submitted Tsipidis, a three-time winner of Lawyers Weekly awards.

Evergen general counsel Theo Kapodistrias – also a three-time winner of Lawyers Weekly awards in in-house categories – agreed, noting that any advice one provides “must be within the commercial context, understanding the environment your company is operating in, and how your advice may affect certain decisions”.


Such commercial skills, he said, “take time to develop”.

“It requires a clear understanding of how the business makes money, the things they care about and the impact that your advice could make,” he said.

The best way to do this, Tsipidis suggested, “is [to] immerse yourself in the business”.

Such immersion involves speaking with internal stakeholders, developing relationships with those different business units, and bolstering one’s professional development and contacts to better appreciate the bigger picture.

And, as financial services legal counsel Chloe Giamadakis (a finalist in the 2023 Australian Law Awards for Rising Star (In-House)) pointed out, “being a lawyer who truly understands the commercial realities your organisation operates in is how you provide the most value to your organisation”.

Internal relationships

When working in-house, Kapodistrias continued, having conversations with colleagues in the finance and operations units will “be a great place to start”, so that an emerging corporate lawyer can “understand the business you’re working for and their risk tolerance”.

Those coming through the ranks in-house should, Giamadakis added, spend time learning and understanding what is important to the business with the various departments “and get an understanding of how they fit within the broader business, understand their key risks, what drives them and what an ideal outcome is”.

Specifically, Tsipidis said in support, “sit with your internal clients and get to know their day-to-day tasks and what they are trying to achieve”.

“Ask plenty of questions (there is no such thing as a silly question when you are learning!), and don’t be afraid to question things that don’t make sense,” she stressed.

Moreover, she went on, young lawyers new to in-house should look to build internal relationships “so that, when you are tasked with reviewing contracts, or providing legal advice, you understand the ‘end-game’”.

“The aim is to provide considered, practical and tailored advice. Legal advice that has a commercial overlay will prove far more valuable than just spelling out what the law says!” Tsipidis said.

External networking

Elsewhere, Giamadakis recommended that emerging in-house lawyers expand their professional networks and capabilities beyond the business.

Understanding “the macroeconomic realities, regulatory framework, and industry more broadly to better inform the organisation’s decisions and its strategic direction”, she said, is essential.

“Join industry bodies, start to create a network within your industry and familiarise yourself with your organisation’s strategic direction,“ Giamadakis said.

“Doing so means that you can apply your technical expertise whilst mitigating risk to the business in a pragmatic manner, which allows the organisation to achieve its goals.”