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In-house counsel must face fears

In-house counsel must face fears

In-house counsel need to “face the fear and stare it down” when it comes to achieving the best outcomes for their business, according to the head of Thiess John Holland's legal team in Brisbane.

Speaking at the Australian Corporate Lawyers Association (ACLA) Corporate Counsel Day held in Brisbane on 8 March, Meighan Heard, the legal and insurance manager of the Airport Link Northern Busway Project, said one of the reasons her team took out the Small In-House Team Award at the 2011 ACLA Awards was its ability to show passion, courage and perseverance when confronting all the issues thrown up during construction of the $4.8 billion Brisbane Airport Link.

“The award suggests we are doing something out of the ordinary,” she said. “We have a fabulous team, but we encounter lots of issues that in-house counsel experience across the board.”

The Brisbane Airport Link project is Australia’s largest infrastructure investment. It commenced in September 2008 and is due to complete on 30 June 2012.

Heard and her team have been on site for over three years, overseeing 25 million hours worked by the 26,000 people who have been inducted into the project.

They have dealt with over a million community notices and tackled issues as diverse as personal injury claims, contract disputes, OH&S matters, and property and environment cases.

“It has been ‘on’ for the last three and a half years,” said Heard. “It’s exciting. There is no day that is boring on the Airport Link.”

According to Heard, in order for an in-house legal team to be successful in a challenging environment, there are several “deciding factors” which must be present.

Aside from courage, passion and perseverance, Heard said in-house legal teams need to be diverse.

“The team needs to be like a cast of Disney characters, not Mister Smith 10 times over,” she said.

The legal team also needs to be unashamed about the role it wishes to play in a project.

“We set our strategy and our vision and haven’t been afraid of stepping forward and revealing all the things we can do, all of our capabilities,” she said.

Heard also emphasised the importance of having the right people on board.

“I wanted learning people, not non-learners,” she said. “People who want to continuously improve, achieve and kick some goals.”

Heard said her legal team acts as solicitors on the record in disputes; directly briefs members of the Bar; and has had some of their success in court reported on. She also said her in-house team has managed many significant adjudications.

An essential ingredient in being able to do all of this, she said, is having the confidence of the business.

“We have great partnerships with senior management,” she said. “You need strong relationships; the development of partnerships with external law firms; a good eDiscovery program; and training, training and more training.”

Finally, said Heard, success really comes down to self belief.

“[Working on projects] is a good opportunity to take a few risks,” she said. “And, at the end of the day, it all comes down to whether or not you believe in yourself.”

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