Q&As

In-House Counsel Q & A with Claire Bibby

Monday January 22, 2018

Claire E Bibby is an experienced General Counsel whose strengths rest in working at both strategic and operational levels for her clients. Claire is a non-executive director of Marist180, an Executive Member of the Association of Corporate Counsel, an Entrepreneur Ambassador for Opportunity International, and a committee member of MS Angels, the Australian National Committee for UN Women and Soroptimist International. Claire’s name has graced numerous awards as one of Australia’s best lawyers and female executives, including the “Excellence Award for Women in Law,” “General Counsel of the Year,” “Female Executive of the Year in Asia, Australia, New Zealand,” and most recently, “Mentor of the Year.”  Part and parcel with her passion for the law, Claire is an active philanthropist and public speaker and writer on issues of diversity and inclusion, psychological wellness and women’s leadership. Claire is currently mentoring 7 lawyers, 1 marine biologist (for the Layne Beachley Foundation) and in the future will be co-mentoring a refugee law student for Deng Adut’s Jon Mac Foundation. Claire E Bibby 2018

We had the pleasure of sitting down with Claire recently to discuss key challenges and opportunities facing the industry today.

You can find the full Q&A below.

What are some of the key trends and developments facing in-house counsel that are having an impact right now?

I'm currently reading Richard Susskind's "Tomorrow's Lawyers" and find myself nodding in agreeance more times than not.  "Soon GC's (and their COO's) will have little choice but to overhaul their departments and working practices: the more-for-less pressure will build to an almost intolerable level and they will have to re-calibrate if not re-engineer the way they work internally and how they source external legal services."  We can't expect external law firms to drive this change or tell us how to do it - we have to be leaders, be adaptable and be exploiting opportunities afforded by new ways of working.  "If and when GCs become radically more demanding, they will have it within their power to urge a reshaping of (the) top echelon of firms and, in turn, redefine the entire legal marketplace."  Count me in!

How do you see technology and innovation shaping the role of in-house counsel in the future?

It should be one of their highest priorities.  The more-for-less challenge is not going to get any easier and s/he who stands still won't be getting thanked anytime soon for doing nothing.  As a critical part of the legal ecosystem, in-house counsel should be collaborating on ways to introduce efficiency and work smarter, not harder.  To survive, let alone flourish, we need to continually add value and be rethinking how we can improve our service delivery.  I'm very optimistic that technology and innovation are doors of opportunity we should firmly have our eyes upon.

Are there any current issues or trends you think some in-house counsel tend to overlook or underestimate?

I am sometimes surprised at the lack of commerciality and/or bad manners that can creep into negotiations (whether they be with in-house or external counsel).  The desire to win points that serve no commercial or strategic value, or allow a negotiation to turn towards personal attacks, rarely impresses anyone and more likely will damage your personal reputation.  Soft skills are extremely important.  You never know who you might interview with a few years down the track, or who may be consulted upon to comment about your practice style.   Your reputation will follow you where ever you go - make sure it's one you are proud of.

What’s one tip you can recommend to in-house counsel that might improve their effectiveness or efficiency?

Hold 45 minute, not 1 hour, meetings.  I have found there to be a lot less time wasting if a lot less time is made available to waste.

What advice can you offer in-house counsel for working with external counsel?

Don't expect or wait for law firms to create ways for us to better serve our clients, or you'll be waiting a very long time.  Law firms have little incentive to move away from the traditional way of delivering legal services - your buying power is greater than what you may expect.  Either be a legal disruptor or know who the legal disruptors are and follow their journeys.

What’s a tip you can offer to in-house counsel related to working with their organisation’s management or board of directors?

Understand that their time is scarce and get straight to the point.  Be an active listener - you'll likely learn more from listening to them than you'll learn from listening to your own voice.

You can hear more from Claire at the 11th Annual In-House Counsel Conference: Innovate or Perish seminar, being held on Wednesday 07 March at the UNSW CBD Campus, Sydney.

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