17 February 2016

Major Australian in-house departments pilot 'lawyer-swap' program

Lawyers from two top Australian law departments have traded places as part of a three-month secondment program, the first of its kinds for in-house counsel.

By Kathryn Higgins

Lightspring

While secondments between law firms and clients are commonplace, it is understood that this is the first time that in-house departments have attempted to share ideas and insights through a 'lawyer-swap'. Westpac Banking Corporation special counsel for technology, enterprise and digital legal Bronwyn James and Telstra legal counsel for technology and operations Henrietta Jones swapped desks for three months to gain a rare glimpse into the workings of another leading in-house department. The two teams are similarly sized, with around 200 lawyers at Telstra and around 130 at Westpac, and both already have internal secondment programs in place that allow legal staff to rotate throughout different sections of the business.

Different team, same challenges

Though the two legal teams are of a 'similar size and calibre', they had no prior working relationship before agreeing to take part in the swap program—yet another key difference between firm-client secondments and the Telstra-Westpac in-house lawyer swap. 'This arrangement was unusual [as] it took place between two unrelated companies, collaborating to obtain alternative perspectives to better serve our clients,' commented Telstra's Ms Jones. She added that stepping into Ms James' shoes at Westpac had uncovered significant common ground in terms of the challenges facing the two departments. 'It has been fascinating to see how [Telstra and Westpac's legal teams] are grappling with similar challenges – such as 'doing more with less' and the pace of rapid technological and business change,' she said, speaking to Australasian Lawyer.

More to come?

Westpac chief compliance officer and group general counsel Rebecca Lim has indicated that her team may look for further collaboration opportunities with other in-house departments after being 'delighted' with the outcomes of the pilot exchange with Telstra. Beyond enhancing the professional development of individual team members, Ms Lim suggests that such link-ups have carry-over benefits for the entire team. 'The program has also generated a lively exchange of ideas on issues such as the use of technology tools for lawyers, best practices for capturing knowledge within the department, and initiatives to enable our lawyers to engage with our end customers,' she commented. 

Source: The Australasian Lawyer

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