Employment Law Space
Inside In-House Podcast Episode 3: Employment Law SpaceIn our final episode of the Inside In-house Podcast for 2020, Tyrilly interviewed three employment lawyers with private practice and in-house experience to understand their career journeys to becoming employment law specialists. The panel also tackled the important role employment lawyers play in managing end of year festivities for the organisations they support.Katrina and Sophie are dedicated lawyer writers for Practical Law's employment module and shared their experience in legal practice with special in-house counsel guest, Kym Korbel. Have a listen to the legal podcast below and scroll down for the episode features. Podcast show notesFinding the employment law callingKym is Head of Employee Relations and Policy at Metcash. Interestingly, law is Kym’s second career, having trained and worked as a medical scientist for a number of years before making the decision to change careers. When Kym completed law school, she landed a private practice role in an IP team. Over a period of eight years, Kym was sent on a number of secondments. “Spending that time working directly within the business made me realise that that's what I wanted to do.”Once Kym became a mother, the timing was perfect to move into a part time in-house position. Her first toe in the water was as a general commercial lawyer for a food manufacturing company. “When I started, there was no one there who specialised in employment law, and the HR team briefed people brief lawyers directly. The General Counsel wanted to get a better understanding of how much money they were spending on legal fees, what types of questions they're asking, and how often they might be asking the same questions.”Kym put her hand up to act as a “post-box” for HR legal queries, and the rest as they say, is history. “With the support of the General Counsel and the HR Director, I decided to focus on employment law from that point on, and I don't think I could go back. While I'm certainly not an in-house lawyer by design, I really feel like I've landed in the best place and found the right area for me.”Key differences between rolesDuring the interview, Tyrilly asked Kym to outline some of the key differences between being an in-house lawyer to an in-house employment lawyer. Kym replied:“When I was a general commercial in-house lawyer, I felt like I was more a jack of all trades. Now as an employment lawyer, the work is still varied, but certainly much more focused in one area.”“As the employment lawyer, when I've sat in the legal team, there is much less fiddly cross-collaboration with me to the point that in a previous organisation, the General Counsel said that he knew the HR team liked me and needed me, but he'd much rather have my head count as another commercial lawyer.”. Tyrilly observed that it was more common nowadays to see employment lawyers sitting apart from the main legal team, and instead having a functional role within the HR team itself. Kym noted:“That makes a lot more sense for this role. We're still involved with the legal team, though sit within the team that directly utilise us and provide advice. It's a welcoming and collaborative environment.Tyrilly added her observation’s to Kym’s commentary, noting that in-house lawyers are best utilised when they are engaged early on in transactional work. “Certainly, we can do the most for our clients when we are part of that collaborative process,” she said.Sophie, Senior Employment Law Writer at Practical Law, agreed with Kym’s comments, recalling her personal experiences in the in-house employment law space being a much more collaborative experience.“I think I learned a lot of soft skills...you've got to be building discretion at all times, professionalism at all times, be approachable, yet still be clear to each and every stakeholder that you're advising the business and that might not necessarily involve just rubber stamping or going along with whatever struggle they're trying to get your advice on or trying to implement,” she said.For Sophie, in a sense, the employment in-house lawyers are treated “a bit like an island”. “Employment specialists are in this really interesting position where you're building rapport and you're trying to create connections with stakeholders and advise them on matters in one day. Then the very next day, you might be called upon to advise on a matter that might involve that said executive or manager. If you liked this, try reading: 2020 Australia: State of the Legal Market ReportKnowing when it's time to engage external lawyersKatrina Seck, Senior Writer at Practical Law, says the main value that private practice lawyers can add for in house employment lawyers is the ability to be able to distance themselves from the business and to give the matter undivided attention and a different angle for focus."We don't have that challenge that Sophie mentioned, of there being a tension between the ethical and professional obligations of being a lawyer and the commercial demands of the business; our sole objective is to provide legal advice."The panel noted that in-house lawyers might not always have an employment specialisation sufficient to understand the nuances of employment law (for example, around no-cost jurisdictions under the Fair Work Act), which can be challenging."In-house counsel will often come to you with a situation but because they're obviously not specialists in the area, they won't know the type of questions necessarily to ask of a private practice lawyer. And what is required often is a lot of digging around to get to the crux of the issue, and correctly identify all the potential risks. So that can be that can pose its own challenges. But it's also quite rewarding." Katrina said."Another challenge, I think that springs to mind is that it's sometimes difficult trying to explain to in-house counsel that applications under the Fair Work Act are traditionally a no cost jurisdiction, which means that organisations have to think long and hard about the benefits of defending proceedings. "Avoiding the festive season legal hangover December is riddled with legal risks for employment lawyers to consider for their organisation. Adding another layer to the complexity this year is the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.Whether virtually held or not, end-of-year celebrations are a red flag for HR and employment lawyers in a business. Tyrilly invited each speaker to comment on the unique risk situation that organisations are facing this year. “One risk that sometimes flies under the radar is the risk of a matter increasingly likely to become an issue of vicarious liability for the employer. Particularly now, when we are well and truly into a post #metoo era, and also that the world has taken an increased focus on work health and safety, the issue of vicarious liability I think, is one which should be on the forefront of employers minds, when they're talking about an end-of-year celebration,” said Sophie. RELATED: Transforming Women’s Leadership in the Law Global Report 2020Katrina agreed with Sophie, further adding that it fundamentally comes down to communication on the part of the employer over what it expected. After all, a work Christmas party, albeit after hours, is still an extension of the workplace. “There's still that nexus between the employment and the function and the out of hours conduct and I think employers as well perhaps need to communicate that disciplinary procedures will still be followed through, despite the fact that employees may be at a workplace function like a Christmas party,” she said. Does this mean that end of year work parties will be off the table for employers in 2020, given the pandemic-related considerations? Katrina suspects not, though employers will need to consider functions extra carefully this year. “We've seen things like staggered start times, we've seen changed office configurations, we've seen so many different changes to the way we save work this year, I don't see why that would change when it comes to the Christmas party.”“Regardless of the fact that there may be looser restrictions in some particular jurisdictions, I really do not think we're going to see big Christmas parties this year for a number of reasons. With the ongoing trend of Friday night virtual drinks and working from home extending to the virtual Christmas party, I think that yes, that we will definitely see the Christmas party moved to a virtual function this year!”Sophie concluded by suggesting that if employers are looking for an alternative to an onsite end of year function, it helps to keep the organisation's "ultimate aim" in mind:"What you're trying to show is appreciation to your employees. You're trying to say thank you. You're trying to recognise achievement…I think gift vouchers are a really valid way to do that, particularly where it might be as simple as food vouchers. And that could be very, very important to employees who may be struggling this year. It can be very, very simple and meaningful and achieve the same result."For further general guidance on this pressing issue for employers, read Katrina and Sophie’s detailed Legal Insight article, Christmas Party Legal Risks at a Glance. Eligible Practical Law subscribers can access additional guidance materials and templates as part of Practical Law's employment law and in-house coverage.Looking for more in-house stories? Plug your headphones into episode one, General Counsel as Trusted Advisers here on Legal Insight.
24 Nov 2020
The Entertainment Industry
Following on from our podcast launch interview, where Tyrilly Csillag, Head of In-House and Commercial at Practical Law interviewed Michelle Dillon, General Counsel at Verifone, our latest Inside In-House episode is a pivot from the FinTech space to the entertainment sector. Tyrilly spoke with two experienced corporate counsel on the program. They are Ivana Kovacevic, Assistant General Counsel at Aristocrat and Cameron Stewart, Senior Legal Counsel at Foxtel. The in-house X factor This particular episode sparked a ‘full circle’ moment for Tyrilly. She met and worked with Cameron while back in private practice. Whilst there, Tyrilly found herself on the opposite side of litigation with Ivana, when Ivana was practising at a law firm! The legal profession is indeed a small world. This leads us into our first section of the podcast, in which Cameron and Ivana discuss the pathways and reasons for moving in-house. For Ivana, while the opportunity came up for her in an unplanned way, the decision to remain there remains clear. “I work with a great team and the company is full of such talent - both legal and non-legal. We have artists, mathematicians and everything in between! It's really inspiring to go to work and be surrounded by people like that,” she said Work-wise, like most in-house professionals will tell you, no two days are the same for Ivana. But another plus factor is the commercial focus. At Aristocrat, Ivana is pleased with how close she is to her client and its business. As Ivana explained: “Immersion into the business comes with a unique ability to support the business, to really understand what it wants and also to have a seat at the table when strategic decisions are being made so you can influence and support it from the start” Ivana Kovacevic, Assistant General Counsel at Aristocrat Over at Foxtel, what attracted Cameron to join its legal department was his love for entertainment content and commercial law. “You don't really get that in-depth experience from private practice, where you're working on the periphery and you're working for multiple clients. When working in-house, you kind of gain plenty of knowledge around what drives different facets of the business,” said Cameron. A typical day for Cameron and his legal team is very diverse, depending on the projects they have operating at the time. “If I'm working on a production, particularly a scripted production, that will take up an inordinate amount of time during the day, and everything else can get pushed back because there are certain timeframes” Cameron Stewart, Senior Legal Counsel at Foxtel Furthermore, Cameron added that while the variability of each day may be challenging, it is also the feature that makes working in-house fun. Related article: Legal Operations Manager at AustPost Shares her Career Story Entertainment industry challenges Providing legal guidance to businesses operating in the entertainment sector is challenging, as it is very highly regulated. This can make for an adrenaline-filled legal environment at times. Tyrilly invited the guests to share some stories about any crisis or unique challenges they have faced. Cameron responded: “Often you'll be in a situation in a room where, particularly with the creative guys, they want to add some controversy, particularly in TV, they want to say risqué things.” “You've just got to pull them back a little bit. Your concern is of the company and its reputation as a whole, whereas their concern is getting the ratings or whatever it may be...It’s about finding a balance and there’s always a solution to such problems” Cameron Stewart, Senior Legal Counsel at Foxtel Ivana shared a bit about her experience working in a crisis management team, which she called out could be really intense and important work. In a real-life crisis scenario, it usually starts with a phone call. “We've been here before,” Ivana told Cameron and Tyrilly. “If it's a particular type of problem, then it might require the crisis management team to be formed straightaway.” By way of advice to other in-house lawyers, Ivana considers crisis management experience to be an excellent development opportunity, because as a lawyer, you will learn a great deal more about your company and your colleagues in other departments and their drivers. Crisis management in respect of cyber security is explored in the recent Thomson Reuters webinar, Cyber Risks and Data Threats for Virtual Workforces. Technology tips for legal teams According to Ivana, anything that can free up time for staff so they can do more value-adding work, is a bonus. One example of this is delegating repetitive tasks to trusted technologies. “We do have different technology in this space. We have, for example, Practical Law, which I think I've heard someone describe as like having a specialist legal in-house team within your legal in-house team. It really is like that. It enables us to answer questions on, say, new areas of law where there aren’t many experts and to do that quickly for the business, which is really good” Ivana Kovacevic, Assistant General Counsel at Aristocrat Ivana’s legal department also has electronic billing, which has been a huge time-saver, as well as electronic document execution. “For people listening who don't have much tech in their teams, this is the low hanging fruit. It's visible to the rest of the business, not just to the legal team.” Related webinar: The Legal Operations Balancing Act and In-House Success Stories Features to look for in external counsel Does it matter whether your law firm adviser utilises legal technologies to help provide you with guidance? For Cameron, it’s becoming more important. “If we're farming out trademark work or patent work for example, we want to ensure that our external advisers have the right technology to sit behind so they don't miss any critical dates” Cameron Stewart, Senior Legal Counsel at Foxtel However, responsiveness and committing to deadlines is really important too, especially in the entertainment industry when the show must go on. “Be practical. We want our legal advisors to know our business and to know the industry,” said Cameron. In addition, a feature that Cameron looks for are soft skills which enable external counsel to provide honest and unambiguous legal guidance. Making the move to in-house When you work in a corporate legal team for a number of years, whether it’s in the entertainment industry or otherwise, you become entrenched in your area as a specialist. As Cameron emphasised, it’s very hard to swap into another sector or industry. This is why Cameron urged new law grads to work out what their strengths and interests are, then follow them. “You've got to ask yourself, is private practice the best route for me? In-house, community law centres, or government? What's going to benefit you the best? You’ve got to kind of be thinking about this all along the way,” said Cameron. To our readers and listeners who aim to become a GC, Ivana’s offered some pointers. The first, is to get exposure to more areas of the law before you venture in-house. This will put you in a really good position, because it’s what your daily work will look like. “You are not going to be expected to be the expert in every conceivable area of law. But you need to know enough about a lot [of different areas of law], if not all, to at least know when you need specialist advice,” said Ivana. The second tip Ivana provided is to be commercial and know your client well. “Embrace that you're not providing advice in a vacuum. Be commercial, be practical. Think outside the box and give your client options. They can choose what suits them,” she added. For more corporate counsel insights, listen to General Counsel as Trusted Advisers on the Inside In-House Podcast.
19 Jul 2020
General Counsel as Trusted Advisers
Thomson Reuters is pleased to launch a brand new in-house podcast, capturing the voices of corporate counsel to ‘talk shop’ and swap stories. For episode one of Inside In-House, Tyrilly Csillag, Head of In-House and Commercial at Practical Law, approached a General Counsel with executive influence to speak on the program. The special first guest is Michelle Dillon, General Counsel – Asia Pacific for Verifone, a FinTech company offering point of sale technology. Tyrilly and Michelle go way back professionally, having worked together early in their careers within the same legal department. Here Tyrilly interviews Michelle on her in-house journey. Their conversation has a particular focus on the business acumen required to become a company’s APAC trusted legal adviser.From law firm to in-houseFlexibility is a word you’ll hear a lot when you speak with corporate lawyers who opt to move in-house. In Michelle’s case, the in-house choice was not only a good opportunity to get back into the workforce after parenting two children, but her flexible attitude. “I moved over to in-house by being flexible – that is the recurring theme you will hear in discussions with me. As a lawyer, the key to success in the professional world is to be flexible in your commercial and professional relationships, and your ability to adapt to different surroundings,” she explained. A day in the lifeTyrilly asked Michelle what a typical day looks like for her, steering the ship as a regional GC. To this, Michelle points out the flexible work hours and time zones to consider in a given work day. “My day starts with New Zealand where it is two hours ahead and finishes with India, which is four and a half hours behind. Overnight I also engage with emails such as communications from the United States, so it is a very long day. Again, you need to be flexible and join calls at all times of the day, or sometimes at night,” she replied. As to the question of travelling, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic (when travel restrictions were not in place), Michelle would spend a lot of time abroad. “I spend a lot of time socialising with the teams in whichever country I’m in. To me that’s how I measure success. It is not just by the role or the title I have, or how big my team is. Success is in how much I enjoy my job, want to get up in the morning and go to work and the relationships that I have developed in the course of my career,” said the General Counsel. Earning a ‘seat at the table’The podcast host pointed out that General Counsel are required to have a high degree of business acumen. So how has Michelle developed these skills over time, Tyrilly asked? The answer is simpler than you’d think: through relationships. “To be able to do that, you need to develop good relationships where you’re not only seen just as a lawyer, but also as a true business partner and trusted adviser,” offered Michelle. Part of building this trust as a legal adviser is done through the use of astute empathy and understanding.“I have helped the business realise that I’m here to assist them and get the deal done. To support them and not to be the stopper…you know, the gate that stops deals happening. It’s very important to show the business that you are there for them. Once you’ve earned their trust, you find that you are welcomed, involved, and your advice is asked for” – Michelle Dillon, General Counsel – APAC, VerifoneMichelle has been in a senior legal role for several years now and is part of the Corporate Executive Management Team at Verifone. The concept of having a seat at the table is critical for a General Counsel. Tyrilly asked her how she uses her role and skills to gain influence.“Well, Tyrilly, first of all, you actually have to get that seat at the table. I gained that seat at the table both at Australia New Zealand level and also at the Executive level for Asia Pacific. I am also the only woman sitting at that table, and the longest standing Executive in Asia Pacific for Verifone,” said Michelle. “Over the years, I have learned how to make a difference by being at that table. You won’t be considered as a valuable member of the team unless you are contributing. It comes down to your commercial acumen, having learned that, again, through your flexibility and relationships, but also through continuously improving yourself. You should never get to a point in your career where you stop wanting to learn”– Michelle Dillon, General Counsel – APAC, VerifoneSeeking external counsel From time to time, Michelle’s legal department seeks legal advice from external counsel. For the law firm listeners on the program, Tyrilly quizzed Michelle on the types of attributes she looks for in external counsel. First and foremost, she looks for lawyers who are commercially-minded. They don’t need to assist with lengthy legal explanations, but rather, provide more of an executive summary. It is important for Michelle to ensure her external counsel are on the same page commercially.GC as a career goal There are no doubt many law graduates and junior lawyers in the profession whose goal is to land the role of a Chief Legal Officer or General Counsel. Michelle urged those with such career aspirations to think about the area they’d like to work in, and gain experience in that area. “If I’m hiring, I will not be looking to hire a lawyer without the experience. To move into an in-house position that will allow you to progress to be a General Counsel, you need to have had at least some experience in that industry,” she added. For another insightful conversation on driving your in-house career, particularly as a woman or parent in the profession, listen to Gender Diversity from the Perspectives of In-House Lawyers on the Change Makers Podcast.
22 Apr 2020