IT’S SET to be the largest event Australia has ever hosted, but all the legal work for World Youth Day 2008 rests on the shoulders of two senior associates from Corrs Chambers Westgarth, who job-share an in-house counsel role.
Jennifer Cook began her secondment to the World Youth Day project in August 2006. She was joined by Kylie Brown in February last year, just a month before leaving to go on maternity leave. Cook returned to the role part time in October 2007 and has shared the role with Brown — also a mother — ever since.
For the two litigators, being seconded to a general counsel role has been a significant, but exciting, transition. “We’re right in the thick of things, so there’s always a revolving door of people coming in and asking questions — and you never know what kind of question is going to be asked,” Cook said.
“It’s been the time of our working lives,” Brown added. “We’re building the contractual framework for the event, and that means absolutely everything — you name it, we’ve done it. It took us from being litigators, when we started, to being general counsel who can do anything.”
Some of the highlights for Brown and Cook so far include working on sponsorship agreements with large corporations such as Qantas and the Commonwealth Bank, preparing performance agreements with high-profile artists, preparing procurement contracts for products ranging from water bottles to baked beans to the pilgrims’ backpacks, and drafting licensing agreements for logos and designs.
Cook and Brown receive back-up from lawyers at Corrs — the official legal service provider for World Youth Day — and this has become particularly crucial as the event draws nearer.
“I am on the phone with people from Corrs at a daily basis at this stage,” said Cook.
“The work has become so voluminous that we certainly outsource work,” she said, adding that she works regularly with lawyers in many practice areas, including tax, construction and intellectual property.
The diversity and sheer volume of the work aside, job sharing could have thrown up a number of additional challenges, but Cook and Brown think they’ve been lucky.
“We actually work in the same way,” Brown said. “There’s nothing I pick up of [Cook’s] that I don’t understand.
“The key thing is that we trust each other,” she explained. “We don’t make a judgement call or give advice unless we agree — and we give each other credit when each of us has done good work.”
Keeping each other in the loop is also very important, Cook added. “It’s quite difficult to step into someone else’s shoes, so we do spend a lot of time doing status reports and listing precisely what’s going on: who might call on a day when I might be there and Kylie’s not, and vice versa,” she said.
For Cook and Brown, it’s the perfect arrangement, and one they’d recommend to other lawyers in the same boat.
“I thought I probably should work five days a week — but I have a two-year-old and I don’t want to miss out on time with her,” Cook said. “Job sharing has been a great solution because I don’t feel that my career has been impeded at all.”
Brown agreed: “We want both [paths]. We want a stimulating career, we want to move forward and at the same time not have our kids turn around to us when they’re 25 and say: ‘Mum, where were you?’ ”.