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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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First and Only Legal Officer

Being a Sole Legal Officer can be challenging.

Being the first lawyer for a company can be even more tricky.

How do you navigate that?

When YOLO (You’re the Only Legal Officer), you need to build your processes, your operations, and your way of working from scratch. You need to establish the rules for how the business will work with you, and how you can seamlessly integrate into the existing structure.

Recently, Theo Kapodistrias, Legal & Commercial Manager at Tourism Tasmania, and Chair of the Sole Legal Officer Special Interest Group at ACC Australia facilitated a conversation with Kate Sherburn, Head Legal Beagle at Who Gives A Crap, and Faten Awad, General Counsel at Mackillop Family Services about how to establish the first legal function for an organisation. 

There were significant insights from the conversation from all three who have all built a legal department up from nothing.

Some of the key insights included:

Establish key relationships: It is critical to establish a relationship with the c-suite and senior leadership team to understand how you will work together, their needs, and the risks they see you being able to assist with.

Expectations: Setting the expectations with the business upfront so it is clear what is within the scope and not within scope. Be very clear about your paramount duty to the court, and not to the individuals who work there. Yes, it is very nice that a lawyer has joined the team, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be able to help you through your divorce.

Know the business: Understand the landscape you’re in, and make it a mission to learn the business inside and out. You will have everyone from the business needing your support, so it’ll be critical to understand the different functions and areas of the business, the organisational strategy, and how you can best integrate and work within the systems in place.

Know the legal risk: Conducting a legal risk assessment is a great way to identify the issues, and risks and to identify the things you’ll need to do early on outside of the Business As Usual (BAU) tasks.

“Help me, help you”: Creating tools that make it easier for the business to provide all of the information you need so you can do your job such as a legal in-take system, creating checklists and guides for those regularly asked questions, and template those standard contracts to make it a self-service tool for your business partners.

Right-sourcing: Resourcing can be tricky.  There will be plenty of things that you will be able to do, but it’s about using your time best. What work can be outsourced? Are there legal service providers who can provide support for that overflow work? Explaining to the business that you can’t do everything, and that you don’t know everything can be daunting, but it’s an important step to take. ‘Right-sourcing’ - having the right resource for the task is a critical skill to learn and finding the right way to deal with particular tasks is important.

Prepare to holiday: Want to take a break? It takes preparation. Get your house in order. Prepare the business, get those things ticked off, and plan like crazy. Preparing the business will allow you to take that time off (unless there is a burning fire of a disaster - you might get a phone call…).

It is a unique and special position to be YOLO - enjoy the opportunity and thrive doing what you do best. You got this.


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