Given her strong background in media and entertainment law, Sue Morgan-Dethick's rather left-field decision to take up an in-house role at Sigma Pharmaceuticals seems like a pretty brave career move.
Morgan-Dethick's interest in the law first blossomed in 1993 when she started working in the ABC's legal and copyright division in Sydney, first as an administrative assistant and then as a paralegal.
She started studying a law degree part-time through the Legal Profession Admission Board, and after graduating took a up role with Herbert Geer & Rundle (now Herbert Geer) in her hometown, Melbourne, specialising in media and entertainment law.
She stayed with the firm for nine years, becoming a senior associate, then special counsel, building up a solid reputation in the field. Then, in 2007, she made what at first glance seems a surprising decision to jump ship and take up an in-house role at pharmaceuticals company Sigma.
"I'd always wanted to move back in-house because ... so much of working in a firm - the time sheets, bringing in new clients, billing - was foreign to me and I struggled with it. But I just loved doing the legal work and I loved the client relationships. But in my field of media and entertainment all the in-house jobs are in Sydney," she explains.
A mother of three children, she explains that her eventual decision to make such a dramatic career shift and try her hand in a different industry was a pragmatic one.
"In 2002 I had my youngest child and from that time I worked from home pretty much because I live a very long way from the city. Which brings me to Sigma - I saw the job advertised which was 15 minutes from home," she says. "I ended up here more by luck than design because, in all honesty, I knew nothing about pharmaceuticals and nothing about the pharmaceuticals industry."
Now, as general counsel, she and an "incredibly able assistant" single-handedly deal with all of the ASX-listed company's legal work, which ranges from complex patent litigation, to franchising and commercial contracting. She admits it's been a steep learning curve, but says she's enjoyed the ride.
"Fundamentally if you're a commercial lawyer I think you should be able to turn your hands to any commercial work .... But it was a really steep learning curve because it was all so new. I've got up to speed now and you really do need to understand the industry and the technical terms because it's a very, very unique industry," she says.
"To be honest, I was very nervous about moving out of the [media and entertainment] work that I did because I guess it's seen as very sexy, and I was concerned pharmaceuticals would be very dry, but it's not. I've just found it fascinating - really exciting and challenging in a completely different way."
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