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The Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) is the world's largest organization serving the professional and business interests of attorneys who practice in the legal departments of corporations, associations, nonprofits and other private-sector organizations around the globe.

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Justin Coss, Interim Group Legal Counsel & Company Secretary at Super Retail Group Ltd

  1. Tell us about your current role.

I am currently serving on a contract basis for a fixed 6 month term as Interim Group General Counsel & Company Secretary of the Super Retail Group Limited (SRG) which is one of Australia’s leading retail groups.

SRG has some amazing household brands within its stable including Supercheap Auto, rebel, Macpac and BCF.

The role includes running a busy legal team of three lawyers and looking after the Board of Directors and all governance aspects of the organisation.

With a market capitalisation of around AUD $2 billion, the Group employs over 12,000 people and has in excess of 670 stores across Australia and New Zealand.

There is never a dull moment in this role with a high level of corporate activity and accompanying legal and governance issues to address.

  1. What do you believe is the most important skill an in-house lawyer needs?

By virtue of the nature of our role, most in-house lawyers need to be solid general practitioners with knowledge across many fields of law. Accordingly, adaptability and an ability to learn on the job are critical. One of the best things about being an in-house lawyer is that you never know what will come across your desk on a given day so versatility is the name of the game.

  1. What led you to pursue an in-house legal role?

My grandfather was a barrister but pursued a career in the commercial world and served as an executive of Woolworths for over 30 years. In those days however, Australia didn’t have such a thing as an in-house lawyer but judging from his stories of sorting out legal issues for Woolworths, it was quite clear that he was General Counsel in all but title. As a result, he was an early inspiration for my career as an in-house lawyer and still is to this day.

  1. What advice would you offer to in-house counsel in building relationships with their organisations

Simple, be approachable, be commercial, give sound, clear advice and hold your ground where appropriate to do so.

  1. What is the one thing a law degree doesn’t teach you about being an in-house lawyer?

Knowledge of the law will take you places but only life experience will teach you about how to get things done in the real world and manoeuvre the sometimes complex socio-political environment that exists in most organisations.

  1. What are the biggest changes you’ve witnessed across the legal sector since you joined the profession?

The increasing importance of technology has taken more and more prominence in the legal profession generally in recent years and nowhere less so than in the house profession where we are called on to do less with more and bring efficiencies to our legal departments.

In addition, we have seen the rise of “newlaw” and the increasing importance that corporations place on having a flexible workforce. Senior lawyers who have other commitments in their lives such as family, elite sport, non-executive director roles or are aspiring entrepreneurs, are now able to pursue fulfilling careers as contract lawyers to fill temporary high calibre corporate roles where the need arises due to various reasons including maternity leave, special projects, recruitment timing and sudden unexpected role vacancies.

In addition, in an ever-changing regulatory environment, in-house lawyers are now increasingly seen as valuable members of Executive Leadership Teams and in some cases have made the transition to commercial c-suite roles such as Chief Operating Officer or Chief Executive Officer.

  1. Finish this sentence…. If I wasn’t a lawyer I’d be….

This has changed for me over my lifetime as my career aspiration as a child was to be a pilot like my father but I also loved to draw and design so architecture was also a possibility. As an adult and in another lifetime, perhaps a chef or a travel writer…..

  1. I like being a part of the ACC Australia community because …….

There are so many good reasons to be part of the ACC but for me it’s the sense of community that ACC offers. Most in-house lawyers are part of small legal teams of 1-4 lawyers and many operate as sole counsel so the support that ACC provides by way of networking, education and advocacy on behalf of our profession are essential ingredients for the career progression and fulfillment of any lawyer working in-house. It can be a very isolating role at times but knowing that I am part of a huge worldwide community of like-minded professionals has been an amazing personal and professional support to me over the years.