IN A FINAL commentary about the profession he has served as New South Wales Attorney-General for six years, Bob Debus last week drew attention to the cracking pace with which in-house legal roles are growing.
Speaking at the Australian Corporate Lawyers Association (ACLA) national conference last Friday, Debus was eager to draw attention to the service that greater numbers of in-house lawyers are offering to the profession.
“In-house counsel are increasingly experienced commercial lawyers who work at the coalface of our legal market,” he told the conference attendees.
“Thanks to the work of ACLA the broader legal community is being forced to acknowledge that in-house counsel are not only part of the legal profession, but a part which is increasingly influential in policy debates and in defining the reputation of lawyers generally,” he said.
Describing the growth of internal legal departments in Australian companies over the last decade as something of a “revolution”, Debus said that “in-house counsel is by far the fasting growing segment of the legal profession in Australia”.
And according to the outgoing NSW Attorney-General, this fast growth is being fuelled by many lawyers from the top end of town.
“It seems a week now rarely passes when there is not at least one story in the legal pages of another senior partner in a big name firm moving in-house,” he said.
“And it is not just the partners who are changing teams. Junior lawyers increasingly see working in a company’s legal department as a way of advancing their legal careers.”
Debus said the appeal of switching to in-house roles lay not only in the diversity of matters and increasingly sophisticated and commercial work, but also “company culture, stock options and wanting a better work-life balance”.
The State Government’s longest serving minister, Debus announced last week that he will not be contesting his seat in 2007.
“I have spent almost 19 years in the NSW Parliament, 16 as a minister, and there comes a time in your life when you feel the need to change, to find new challenges and new horizons,” he said.
“I am very fortunate and deeply honoured to have been able to serve the people of NSW across a range of portfolios. I am grateful to the Labor Party, my caucus colleagues and of course to the people of the Blue Mountains who have entrusted me as their Parliamentary representative.”
As among his proudest achievements, Debus named developing the Rural Fire Service into the “best trained and equipped volunteer fire-fighting organisation anywhere in the world”, environmental conservation — including expansion of NSW’s national parks, establishing the Special Commission of Inquiry into the asbestos liabilities of James Hardie Industries, and making reforms to “improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the NSW court system”.
“I think many of us take for granted the sheer size of a legal jurisdiction that deals with more than 300,000 cases every year,” he said.
“We often hear about the handful of controversial cases that make the newspapers, but for the most part our system operates independently without fear, favour or corruption.”
Debus confirmed that the federal seat of Macquarie had been discussed as a career possibility in the future, though he expressed no desire to make his plans official until 2007.
“A move to the federal arena would allow me to pursue a range of interests,” he said. “However, I need to discuss the prospect of a move to federal politics in more detail with my family and close associates.”