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A week in the life of an in-house counsel

1 Apr 2022

| Author: Vicki Ammundsen & Stephen Tomlinson

As cliché as it might sound, the beauty of working in-house is that no two days are the same.

The job requires you to wear several different hats, sometimes more than one at a time, so you can connect with the business and help meet its needs.

The in-house legal function often gets a bad rap for being the team that make things difficult or over-complicates a situation. However, once you develop strong relationships within the business, the value you can add is profound. You start to find that different internal stakeholders actually want to come to you, rather than avoid you.

I started working in-house as my first job after being admitted and despite not knowing anything different, I have loved the learn-as-you-go approach and the autonomy I have been afforded in doing so.

I engage with the business across many different practice areas, including property, privacy, employment, operational agreements, intellectual property and other general legal matters.

Here is a broad overview of what my week looks like:

Monday

  • I start every day by clearing my inbox and replying to
    outstanding emails. Since we are an international company,
    emails sometimes come in from the overseas team during the
    weekend that require priority.
  • Sit down for a property team WIP to find out the status of our
    live projects and hear about any new ones in the pipeline. I
    work closely with the property team in drafting lease
    documents, sale and purchase agreements and helping with due diligence.
  • Work through any contracts or service level agreements
    (SLA) the team has sent in for review and provide comment
    for them to take back to their customers or suppliers.
  • Catch up with our general counsel about some of our larger
    customer contacts and leases, both here in New Zealand and
    overseas.
  • Arrange for a catch-up with our overseas in-house counsel
    to discuss what is going on in their regions and any new legal
    matters or updates to pass on to the senior team based here
    in New Zealand.

Tuesday

  • Consult with our group manager of team development to
    prepare for a mediation later in the week. We catch up with
    the team involved and talk through the process they followed
    and work through strengths and weaknesses of our position.
  • Head out to view one of our new sites with our property
    manager. It is always great to see what happens after the legal
    side of things is done and to follow the build progress of a
    new freight depot.
  • Work through questions that have come in from the team
    regarding what changes we can accept to our SLA and how
    best we can accommodate a customer’s request.
  • Have follow-up conversations with team after feedback is
    provided on contracts and understand the areas where it can
    be flexible and those where it cannot.

Wednesday

  • Have a zoom meeting with a contract software provider. We
    are looking to implement some new legal software so I am in
    charge of engaging with a few different businesses to
    compare their offerings and put forward a business case for
    the one we should go with.
  •  Catch up with our development manager about a new site we
    are looking at and go over the commercial terms he would
    like included in a letter of offer for the landlord to consider.
  • Start to work through new lease proposal and talk with our
    property manager about any additional requirements the site
    might need to make it best fit our operational needs. It is
    always easier to deal with all this upfront in the negotiation to
    enable the landlord to understand the specifics of our
    operations.
  • Take a few calls from team on a range of topics including the
    status of different contracts, employment questions and
    general updates.

Thursday

  • Celebrate one of our team who has been with the business for
    20 years– such a huge milestone. Always nice to come
    together with the wider team and have a shared morning tea
    and catch-up.
  • Have a call with our external counsel about some of our
    trademarks that are coming up for renewal and liaise with
    our signatories to find a time that will suit for them to sign the
    requisite Power of Attorney documents and declarations.
  • Discuss with general counsel whether we wish to oppose a
    trademark that is similar to ours in an overseas jurisdiction
    and what the likelihood of success would be.
  • Liaise with counsel for one of our landlords to arrange an
    extension to one of its key milestone dates in our lease, and
    talk through with the team the implications of this.
  • Catch up with our sustainability team about some new policies that are in
    their first draft stages and the best way forward for these.
  • Catch up with our sustainability team about some new policies that are in
    their first draft stages and the best way forward for these.

Friday

  • Attend an employment mediation with our group manager of team
    development and a member of our training team on Zoom. I miss the days
    of face-to-face mediations but Zoom provides many efficiencies.
  • Mediation takes up most of the morning, but we reach an outcome both
    parties are happy with, which is always satisfying.
  • Quick debrief with the team about how the mediation went and what we
    would like to improve on procedurally.
  • Another Zoom meeting to chat with our insurers and members of the
    air and ocean team about a new agreement and what sort of coverage
    we need.
  • I try to keep Friday afternoon clear so I can catch up on any work or emails
    that have slipped through the cracks throughout the week so that they do
    not hang over to next week – if possible!

Georgina Sanders is in-house counsel at Mainfreight with 5.5 years’ PQE

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