find the latest legal job
Corporate Counsel and Company Secretary
Category: Generalists - In House | Location: Newcastle, Maitland & Hunter NSW
· Highly-respected, innovative and entrepreneurial Not-for-Profit · Competency based Board
View details
Chief Counsel and Company Secretary
Category: Generalists - In House | Location: Newcastle, Maitland & Hunter NSW
· Dynamic, high growth organisation · ASX listed market leader
View details
In-house Projects Lawyer | Renewables / Solar | 2-5 Years PQE
Category: Generalists - In House | Location: All Australia
· Help design the future · NASDAQ Listed
View details
Insurance Lawyer (3-5 PAE)
Category: Insurance and Superannuation Law | Location: Brisbane CBD & Inner Suburbs Brisbane QLD
· Dynamic organisation ·
View details
Legal Counsel
Category: Corporate and Commercial Law | Location: North Sydney NSW 2060
· 18 month fixed term contract · 3-5 years PQE with TMT exposure
View details
Not strictly legal: Negotiating roles in-house

Not strictly legal: Negotiating roles in-house

There is a fine line between providing legal advice and commercial acumen for an in-house lawyer. So where should the legal advice start and stop, and the in-house lawyer's commercial mind step…

There is a fine line between providing legal advice and commercial acumen for an in-house lawyer. So where should the legal advice start and stop, and the in-house lawyer's commercial mind step in?

According to the Deloitte 2010 study, "Do in-house lawyers hold all the cards", there has been an increasing trend for general counsel to take on non-legal roles on top of their regular legal work within their organisations.

Such findings provided the inspiration for a debate on the commercial legal divide at the ACLA National Conference last week, with a number of GCs revealing just how they handle the multiple hats they're asked to wear within their organisations.

"The types of non-legal roles we're talking about include most commonly the company secretary responsibility, regulatory and risk compliance responsibilities and risk management," said Alexandra Rose, the debate facilitator and chairperson of the NSW Law Society Corporate Lawyers committee. "Some additional roles include strategic development, managing teams aside from the in-house legal team, holding directorships, managing ethics or whistle blowing programs and project management responsibilities."

That's a vast array of responsibilities many in-house lawyers and GCs are now being asked to take on. But can such roles conflict with a lawyer's overall duty to act first and foremost as legal counsel? And how can in-house lawyers differentiate between providing legal and commercial advice?

In the case of Greg Watson, general counsel at Metcash, his role is strictly legal, but he and his team go further than the black letter law where needed.

"All the advice I provide is quite strictly legal. Informally, however, I'd like to think that my team makes a massive contribution to the company in terms of the commercial side," said Watson.

Watson added that he does not believe he faces too many conflicts in making both these functions work. "For me, it's the communication and it's the clarity and I've built up that relationship with the CEO and the executive so they understand what we can provide and what we can't provide," he said.

"My team has earned its place at the commercial table via the value proposition that we offer the business."

According to Amanda Harkness, group general counsel and company secretary at ASX Limited, in-house lawyers can join the dots across business silos, while still retaining their role as legal counsel.

She said that in order to give the best legal advice, you need to understand the commercial product and that broad understanding can often lead in-house teams into seeing a birds eye view of the business.

"Often lawyers are in a position where the legal team has the whole business coming to it for advice on different matters. Joining the dots is something that's only able to happen when you can do what I'd call 'zooming up and zooming down'."

Rob Simpson, director of legal and business affairs at the ABC, believes it's usually clear to the business in what capacity he is acting. "I don't think I've actually seen a situation where it's not clear in what capacity you're acting," he said.

"You may well be indicating there are some risk factors and that if you've said 'well there are potentially significant risks in doing x, y and z, but on balance this is probably the best way to go', well that doesn't mean an absolutely ironclad sign-off, where if there is a problem, people are saying 'the lawyers signed off on it and I don't know why people are now pointing the figure at me'."

Like this story? Read more:

QLS condemns actions of disgraced lawyer as ‘stain on the profession’

NSW proposes big justice reforms to target risk of reoffending

The legal budget breakdown 2017

Not strictly legal: Negotiating roles in-house
lawyersweekly logo
Promoted content
Recommended by Spike Native Network
more from lawyers weekly
LCA president Fiona McLeod SC
Aug 17 2017
Where social fault lines meet the justice gap in Aus
After just returning from a tour of the Northern Territory, LCA president Fiona McLeod SC speaks wit...
Marriage equality flag
Aug 17 2017
ALHR backs High Court challenge to marriage equality postal vote
Australian Lawyers for Human Rights (ALHR) has voiced its support for a constitutional challenge to ...
Give advice
Aug 17 2017
A-G issues advice on judiciary’s public presence
Commonwealth Attorney-General George Brandis QC has offered his advice on the public presence of jud...
APPOINTMENTS
Allens managing partner Richard Spurio, image courtesy Allens' website
Jun 21 2017
Promo season at Allens
A group of lawyers at Allens have received promotions across its PNG and Australian offices. ...
May 11 2017
Partner exits for in-house role
A Victorian lawyer has left the partnership of a national firm to start a new gig with state governm...
Esteban Gomez
May 11 2017
National firm recruits ‘major asset’
A national law firm has announced it has appointed a new corporate partner who brings over 15 years'...
opinion
Nicole Rich
May 16 2017
Access to justice for young transgender Australians
Reform is looming for the process that young transgender Australians and their families must current...
Geoff Roberson
May 11 2017
The lighter side of the law: when law and comedy collide
On the face of it, there doesn’t seem to be much that is amusing about the law, writes Geoff Rober...
Help
May 10 2017
Advocate’s immunity – without fear or without favour but not both
On 29 March 2017, the High Court handed down its decision in David Kendirjian v Eugene Lepore & ...