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How to ... survive five weeks as an acting general counsel

How to ... survive five weeks as an acting general counsel

Is working in-house all beer and skittles? Nathan Mattock, partner at Marque Lawyers, writes

Is working in-house all beer and skittles? After doing a five week stint in-house, Marque Lawyers partner Nathan Mattock tells how to survive the experience. 

I’m down at a client’s office for 5 weeks.  My phone rings.  I can see on the caller ID that it’s someone from my law firm . . . I put on the silliest, serious voice I can muster in the split second . . . “General Counsel, how may I help you this fine day?” 

Laughter erupts.  This is ridiculously good fun.

When are you going to take me to lunch and schmooze me?”

You’re such a loser

More fun.

I then answer some mundane legal question and hang up.  What next?  It’s check the emails time.  Low and behold there is work to do.  Gosh, I thought being in-house was all beer and skittles.

Time to get to work.  It’s not really that different on the other side of the fence.  The client is the business, but the legal work is the same and the time pressures are in some cases worse - the NSW Regional Director walks straight up to my desk and asks a question about sacking an employee.  I’m not a workplace specialist. Help!

Wedged between payroll and HR is a different experience.  This is the real world and not some law firm in an ivory tower.  The open plan set up for me is easy.  It’s the same as at my real work, but here there’s no iTunes server pumping out Rihanna and so I can hear a pin drop.  Time to check the emails again.

Then the legal dorky fun starts. 

The Head of Project Management, The World walks up with an 18 page advice from one of the big boys and asks me if I can explain it to him.  18 pages of butt covering later and the answer is: we’re not really sure but if our assumptions change or you give us more information our advice may change.  How frustrating.  Mental note to self.  As an in-house counsel all I wanted was a yes or no.  That’s all the Head of Project Management wanted.

I can’t wait to get the invoice.  I’m guessing at least one paralegal memo, a junior solicitor draft, senior associate edits, more junior solicitor drafting and finally the big kahuna, Partner “settling”. 

As the days go by, what I thought would be a cruisey five weeks acting as an in-house counsel was far from it.  Sure there are mundane legal tasks in every role, but getting hit with questions which require immediate answers on all manner of topics across the business does provide a new insight into life on the inside.

If there was one survival technique I learned in my five weeks as Acting General Counsel, it was that delivery of legal services must be clear, concise and to the point. 

Lawyers shouldn’t be road blocks to a business.  They should be facilitators.   Why, so much of the time, are they not?

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