Transitioning from law firm to legal executive

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Transitioning from law firm to legal executive

Promoted by Governance Institute of Australia.

Adding new qualifications at mid-career has opened doors for Stephanie Vass, executive general manager, legal, risk and safety for Chandler Macleod Group Limited. Completing a Graduate Diploma of Applied Corporate Governance with Governance Institute of Australia has fuelled her aspirations to expand beyond the legal space to incorporate more governance and risk management.

Being a lawyer can have its ups and downs and after 15 years spent between Abbott Tout and Piper Alderman, Stephanie Vass was ready for a change. “I was a practising lawyer for a very long time,” she said in a recent interview. “When I was offered an in-house role in 2010, I jumped at it.” And while she’d enjoyed her time in legal practice, the timing felt right to expand her expertise.

Once she began her new role as group general counsel and head of people and development, obtaining an understanding of the commercial side became a priority.

“I wanted to understand more about governance, compliance and finance,” Ms Vass said.

After a few years of informal study, she realised that she wanted to formally expand her knowledge and gain recognised credentials. Governance Institute’s Graduate Diploma of Applied Corporate Governance was exactly what she was looking for.

“I felt like my legal background gave me a solid platform from which to dive into corporate governance,” she said.

Returning to study can be a big commitment, and Ms Vass quickly found that part-time study, balanced with work and a personal life, was quite different from the full-time study of her university days. Motivation combined with flexible study options made it relatively simple for her to fit study into her life.

“The course is quite flexible, with evening, Saturday and online study options. Plus, the co-ordinators were excellent and had an understanding of people’s obligations in terms of work and family. But the key to succeeding was in finding that discipline to get the reading done ahead of time and really be prepared for every class,” she explained.

Ms Vass especially enjoyed the subjects that focused on risk management: “In my inhouse roles, I realised that risk plays a huge part in business. I wanted to be able to contribute to those conversations from a place of confidence and knowledge.”

One thing Ms Vass hadn’t really given much thought to before beginning the course was the value of the network she was able to form.

“I developed some great new relationships and I revived relationships with people I previously worked with,” she said. “We formed study groups and were able to help one another out if any of us had to miss a class. Although we came from different backgrounds, we were all of the same mindset: we wanted to be governance professionals. That shared motivation was the glue that brought us together.”

Governance Institute’s Graduate Diploma of Applied Corporate Governance has opened new horizons for Ms Vass.

“I apply what I learned every day. In particular, I have used the knowledge I acquired in risk management and I appreciate the learnings in corporate financial management which have helped me to navigate the previously uncomfortable world of financial statements,” she said.

In addition to the solid, practical learnings she took away from the course it has given her an eye for governance and risk management.

“I am now better equipped to know what to look for. The course provided me with the concrete theory and practical examples which I can apply in the performance of my role,” she added.

Ms Vass believes the Graduate Diploma of Applied Corporate Governance is an invaluable qualification for lawyers looking to move into an in-house role, a company secretarial role, or to expand their broader business competencies.

Find out more about Governance Institute’s postgraduate courses in governance and risk management at

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