It's fair to say that Telstra has played a pretty significant role in shaping Simon Brookes' legal career. He has now worked in-house with Telstra for about eight years, and currently holds the role of deputy group general counsel as well as general counsel of business units Telstra media and Telstra strategic marketing. However, Brookes' relationship with the telecommunications giant stretches back significantly further than that.
He launched his career at Mallesons Stephen Jaques in 1989, when Telstra (then Telecom Australia) was quickly emerging as an important client for the firm in the Melbourne office.
The telecommunications industry was developing rapidly, so it was an opportune time to get involved with the company. Key developments included the enactment of the Telecommunications Act 1991, which quickly expanded the industry through increased competition, the introduction of Telstra's mobile network, and later, the conversion to digital mobile technology.
In 1994 Brookes moved across to work in-house in Telstra for a three-year stint, before returning to Mallesons in 1997 to work overseas. However, his ties with Telstra remained strong, and in 2001 he decided to move in-house for good.
With his three-pronged role, Brookes has both managerial and legal responsibilities. "What I try and do as [deputy group general counsel] is manage a lot of the day-to-day responsibilities within the group, so [group general counsel Will Irving] can have clean air to focus on the board and the CEO. So there's important responsibilities there - promotions, recruitment, pay, continuing legal education, systems, budgets - all those things necessary for the smooth operation of the group," he says.
On the legal side, Brookes' focus is the media and strategic marketing divisions, which involve the legal issue surrounding the supply of content and the promotion of the company's products and services. "So there's a lot of work there with regards to brands, sponsorships and advertising - a lot of [work] dealing with part 5 of the Trade Practices Act," he says.
Brookes says a highlight of working in-house is the level of direct engagement with the business. "I think that when you're in-house, you get a much more holistic view of what's going on. [You get] a better understanding of the business strategy and more constant engagement with senior management, rather than just sitting externally and perhaps opining on one particular aspect of a matter."
He points to the sheer volume of work as being one of the challenges of the role. "I think, as somebody once coined it, at times it can be like sipping from a fire hydrant," he laughs.
"At a law firm, lawyers are at the centre. Working in-house, lawyers are a support function. There's a large volume of work and you need to be able to meet client expectations with regard to turnaround time, but you also need to behave as a fiduciary, and make sure you're meeting your responsibilities as an independent practitioner."
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