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Helen Conway, General counsel of Caltex

Helen Conway, General counsel of Caltex

Helen Conway has a few balls to juggle in her role at Caltex - she is the petrol producer and retailer's general counsel, company secretary and the general manager of the office of the CEO.So…

Helen Conway has a few balls to juggle in her role at Caltex - she is the petrol producer and retailer's general counsel, company secretary and the general manager of the office of the CEO.

So it's not surprising that she lists the key challenge of her role, and for her team of 11 lawyers, as "managing workload". "We try and ensure our lawyers have a reasonable work/family balance and we strive to be flexible in our work practices," she says, adding that she believes corporate departments are generally better equipped to offer flexible working arrangements than private sector law firms.

Prior to moving into the corporate space, Conway had built up a successful career in private practice. She had amassed 10 years of experience, including seven years as a partner, and she also held a role as a senior judicial member of the NSW Equal Opportunity Tribunal. But by 1989 she was ready for a new challenge, so she jumped ship to the in-house space.

Once immersed in the corporate world, Conway spent a decade testing the waters in organisations spanning a range of industries, including insurance and financial services. Then in 1999 the position at Caltex came up and she's been there ever since, and along the way, picked up ACLA's Corporate Lawyer of the Year award in 2005.

It's now 20 years since Conway left private practice, and she knows she made the right choice, saying that the highlight of working in-house is the excitement of being in the midst of where the commercial decision-making takes place: "In-house practice offers you the opportunity to be where the action is. It's extremely interesting and energising," she says.

One aspect of her current role at Caltex that she particularly enjoys is her involvement in strategic decision-making - an opportunity which has come about through the various other roles she's taken on outside the legal division. "In my particular case, in-house practice has offered me the opportunity to be part of the executive team and undertake a boarder portfolio of responsibilities. It's been a wonderful experience," she says.

For example, in her role as general manager of the office of the CEO, Conway has overall responsibility for legal services, corporate governance, government affairs, media, branding, communications and internal audit - not a position to take lightly, particularly in a high-profile company in a tightly scrutinised industry.

But for Conway, this is all part of the appeal: "Caltex operates in a complex and highly visible industry and the work we do is diverse and challenging, [so] there's never a dull moment," she says.

>> For the latest news, views and analysis of issues affecting in-house lawyers, check out Lawyers Weekly's dedicated in-house site www.lawyersinhouse.com.au

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Helen Conway, General counsel of Caltex
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