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What does it mean to be a 'world class' legal team?

By Kathryn Higgins

01 November 2016 at 10:18 BST

The GC Futures Summit has kicked off in London today, and speakers aren't shying away from the tough questions.

Telstra general counsel Carmel Mulhern is co-chair of this year's GC Futures Summit.

Catchphrases like ‘innovative’, ‘diverse’ and ‘world class’ are easy to throw around, but what do they actually mean? This was the question posed to delegates by Telstra general counsel Carmel Mulhern at the opening of this year’s GC Futures Summit in London today. General counsel and legal industry experts from around the globe have gathered at the offices of K&L Gates in London to pool knowledge about the challenges and opportunities currently facing the in-house profession and to share their visions for the role of the general counsel and their legal team going forward. From shaping ethical culture, to developing an appetite for acceptable risk, to steering the course through Brexit – no stone will be left unturned.

Building a ‘world class’ team

As Summit co-Chair, Ms Mulhern dived straight into the deep end by asking delegates to consider not only what it means to aspire towards building a ‘world class’ legal team, but also what it might look like to develop a measurable and accountable strategy for towards achieving that goal. For Ms Mulhern and her team at Australian telecom giant Telstra, becoming ‘world class’ means developing strength in four key areas – deep knowledge of the business, legal team diversity, smart innovation and awareness of culture. Holding these traits as ideals is not enough, Ms Mulhern contends – a GC needs to decide what these will look like in practice, what they will add to the business, and which changes can be made today to serve as ‘stepping stones’ towards achieving them.

Working towards innovation and diversity

Performance indicators, metrics and short-term goals are important, but meaningful change requires a shift in cultural values that goes right to the core of the legal team. Embracing innovation, for example, should be more than merely a necessary response to growing disruption and budgetary pressure, Ms Mulhern said. Instead, having an ‘innovative’ team means developing an in-house culture within which lawyers are willing, and even enthusiastic, to disrupt themselves. Ms Mulhern offered a similar perspective on diversity. While setting in motion programs and policies which broaden the profile of lawyers working within your team is important, more important is truly appreciating why diversity matters: ‘Diversity isn’t just about gender, it’s about diversity of thought,’ Ms Mulhern said. Setting targets for employing lawyers from different backgrounds or life experiences can be a good stepping stone, but the end goal shouldn’t be ticking off a target. Instead, it’s cultivating a team that meaningfully reflects the diversity of the company's clients and customers around the globe that can make an in-house legal department truly world class. 


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