Talking to Catherine James, Challenger Limited, and Shoshana Shields, eBay Australia and New Zealand Pty Limited.
At LOD, we feel privileged to work with GC’s who are at the top of their game. In this GC Views, we are thrilled to talk to two such GC’s who are also finalists in the upcoming Lawyers Weekly Corporate Counsel Awards. Catherine James, nominated for Banking & Finance Lawyer of the Year and Shoshana Shields, nominated for Technology, Media and Telecommunications Lawyer of the Year, share their insights.
LOD: Thank you both for taking the time to talk with us. Can we start by asking what led you to a career in-house?
Shoshana: I had a secondment experience at Virgin Mobile and immediately everything made sense to me from a career perspective. I loved the commerciality and common purpose of the environment. I’ve never looked back.
Catherine: My inner soul! Apart from all the usual reasons to move in-house, such as wanting greater commercial exposure, becoming closer to corporate strategy, more control, flexibility and a desire to seek broader expertise rather than specialise, my inner soul was craving something more than private practice M&A could offer at that time. I often tell the story that I came very close to accepting a marketing role in a well-known charity for a nominal salary, as I yearned to make more impact in society. The Challenger role attracted me as Challenger’s focus on annuities (and now more broadly retirement incomes) in an ever aging population was something that resonated with me and my family, as financial security for the elderly of every generation is so important. The Challenger role offered a demanding in house legal role where I felt I was instantly making a real impact.
LOD: The role of General Counsel has shifted in recent years from pure technical legal work to a more commercial and strategic focus. Can you comment on how this has impacted you and your in-house roles?
Shoshana: This is the key driver to an in-house role. The excitement lies in the fact that the role has expanded from pure technical legal skills to a strategic, commercial, legal role. There is so much diversity, scope and room to learn skills beyond pure legal skills. Being in-house forces you to understand the commercial impact of legal decisions. It helps shape and bring context to the role that the legal function plays in an organisation.
Catherine: Definitely. This means we are more focussed on strategic matters and financial contribution. For example, we are now outsourcing low value routine legal work, such as confidentiality agreements, and empowering the business to review certain low risk and low value contracts. This frees up more of our time to focus on work of strategic importance to Challenger. Risk assessment and value is key to directing our energies. We are not just legal processors, but contributors to the bottom line.
“There is so much diversity, scope and room to learn skills beyond pure legal skills. Being in-house forces you to understand the commercial impact of legal decisions.”
LOD: Congratulations on being finalists in the upcoming Corporate Counsel Awards. What do these Awards (which are focused on the in-house community) and this recognition mean to you?
Shoshana: It is great that there is a forum to recognise and appreciate the work of in-house lawyers. All the in-house lawyers I know, including me, work in under resourced, highly active environments. We are under pressure and have high deliverables, and it obviously feels great to be recognised for the hard work.
Catherine: Thank you so much. It is an honour for the Challenger legal team and me to be part of these prestigious Awards. We are very proud to be part of the in-house legal community which is increasingly gaining recognition, strength and influence, as well as in number. If I do win, I would like to dedicate my award to all the working parents. I have a wonderfully supportive husband and two amazing daughters who have had to adjust to the demands of a full time working mother. It is not easy being a working parent and I am fortunate to have such fantastic child care support from my parents and parents-in-law, whereas some don’t even have that. As working parents, we may not always get the balance right but, with perseverance, we are helping and shaping future generations.
LOD: In your opinion, have legal teams become an indispensable part of an organisation, and if so, why?
Shoshana: Legal teams provide legal advice with a strategic and commercial lens attached. This is invaluable. Without a good strategic legal team, an organisation is at risk of being either overly cautious and led by more conservative legal analysis, or the opposite, completely rogue and risky business practices. A good in-house legal team should balance this.
Catherine: This depends on the nature of the organisation, but certainly in-house legal teams seem to be an essential part of mid to larger organisations. I believe the value of the in-house model (where externals are used for specific matters only) as opposed to the outsourced legal model, is being recognised as a source of cost saving, control and risk management. The in-house legal team bring real value to business, as they fully understand their organisation’s businesses, reputational sensitivities, personalities, internal processes, policies and operations – essentially how to achieve the best outcomes in their environments.
LOD: What are some of the major trends you are seeing in your particular industry?
Shoshana: Across the legal industry, there is a great emphasis on legal technology. Being in the tech industry to start off with, there is real pressure for a legal team in that industry to also be a legal tech leader. There is a trend towards employing “legal operations” personnel. I also think there is still an emphasis on building better contract management systems, together with using more sophisticated methods such as AI to improve legal review.
Catherine: 3 key trends jump out – increased regulation, the impact of technological advancement and NewLaw. Being in the financial services industry we are heavily regulated. The regulation relating to financial services is constantly changing. It is hard to keep pace at times and changes in regulation are demanding on legal resources and time!
Similarly, it is a challenge to keep pace with technological advancement. There is a growing amount of time being spent in areas such as cyber security, privacy and data protection. Staff need training and there is also legislative change on a global scale to deal with. It changes the way we operate.
From a legal resourcing perspective, obviously “NewLaw” such as Lawyers On Demand is becoming increasingly popular to assist in filling gaps in legal resourcing for in-house legal teams. They can move so quickly, keeping up with the pace of business. I had a wonderful experience recently where a resourcing gap was filled by a quality lawyer within almost 24 hours. Just amazing!
“3 key trends jump out – increased regulation, the impact of technological advancement and NewLaw.”
LOD: What do you see the legal department of the future looking like, compared to the way they are structured and operate today?
Shoshana: I think legal operations is going to develop substantially. At the moment it is still relatively new as a concept. In the future there is so much potential to build that role and function within an organisation to help create very efficient and tech savvy legal operations.
Catherine: Robots, robots, robots and more robots! Well at least more automation. Although I can imagine “legal bots” wandering around the office, indeed if traditional office environments will still exist. Certainly, there will be more business empowerment and self-help models utilised for certain types of work, particularly low risk, routine legal work. I am sure there will be commonly used apps and bots that will have a crack at major strategic M&A deals and financing arrangements, which mere mortals can at least use as a guide. There will probably be qualified and multi-skilled legal IT coders and Head of In-house Legal Innovators. It’s already begun, including in the Challenger team, where we have appointed legal innovation leaders. I also have to ask the question: “Will there even be separate legal departments?”. In-house lawyers won’t just be lawyers anymore.
LOD: What are the main opportunities and challenges for the legal industry in 2018?
Shoshana: There are always going to be the usual challenges of the tech industry being ahead of the law. Many existing laws were created before technology advances and fitting within these laws can be tricky. For example, e-contracts, digital goods and copyright, and cross border commerce and trade. I think these areas of law will continue to create challenges within the existing legal framework.
Catherine: For my particular role, continuing to work closely across the business as it grows. I am also focused on the health and well being of the team, which generates the high performance we need to keep pace with business demands. I am an advocate of workplace flexibility and keeping everyone close, collaborating and connected. Making sure we are appropriately resourced for growth is very important. Again this is a challenge and also leads to opportunity. “Happy team, leader’s dream!”
For the legal industry more broadly, as mentioned, keeping up with the pace of business, new regulation and technological advancement is challenging and also leads to opportunity. Getting the technology right and knowing the best time to take the plunge with a new technology is tricky. The legal industry needs to keep up. Even as I was walking from Martin Place to Barangaroo recently in a particularly uncomfortable pair of shoes, I found myself wondering about teleportation and how it would further speed the fast pace in which we now operate. Quantum teleportation is already possible, so surely teleporting to a business meeting across town is not too fanciful or far off? Admittedly, I will still need to find a more comfortable pair of shoes during 2018.
“I am also focused on the health and well being of the team, which generates the high performance we need to keep pace with business demands. I am an advocate of workplace flexibility and keeping everyone close, collaborating and connected.”