Member in the Spotlight allows us to get up-close and personal with some of our ACC Australia members. This week we are shining the spotlight on Andrew Paloni, Senior Legal Counsel at AIMS and a member of the New to In-house Special Interest Group.
Tell us about your current role.
I’m a lawyer at the Australian Institute of Marine Science, known as AIMS. AIMS is a Commonwealth research institute that leads marine research across Australia’s tropical north. I work in a small, close-knit legal team providing the legal support that our scientists and their teams need to produce their world-leading research. A lot of the time that means working on contracts with a range of funding partners, scientific collaborators and suppliers, but like a lot of in-house roles we are generalists who can get up to speed quickly on almost anything legal or legal-ish.
I am based at AIMS’ headquarters, which is located about 30 minutes’ drive outside Townsville, in North Queensland. Our HQ is on a large, isolated site surrounded by national park, with a private beach that leads out to the Coral Sea and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, so it is a pretty special place to work. On site we run scientific labs and the National Sea Simulator, known as SeaSim, the world’s most advanced research aquarium facility.
Image credit: AIMS
What do you believe is the most important skill an in-house lawyer needs?
The ability to listen. Lawyers are often very good at talking, but being able to listen really well can be more challenging.
What led you to pursue an in-house legal role?
The old cliché – I was trying to find interesting legal work that did not involve billable hours and supported my growing family commitments.
What advice would you offer to in-house counsel in building relationships with their organisations
I know I’m going to sound like a broken record, but my advice would be to try your best to really listen to your colleagues. Listening carefully can help you understand what your colleagues really need, which means you can deliver on those things rather than the things you think (or wish) they needed. If you can deliver what your colleagues need then they will want you to be involved again next time, and so the relationship builds.
What is the one thing a law degree doesn’t teach you about being an in-house lawyer?
The main one that pops to mind is less about skills or knowledge and more about mindset. When you are in-house, you usually aren’t the ‘main game’ for your organisation. To explain what I mean, when you study law it can be easy to think that law, lawyers and legal advice are at the core of any organisation (or the universe for that matter). Similarly, in a law firm the legal services that lawyers produce are the main product, so lawyers are at the core of the firm.
In my experience being an in-house lawyer is a different function – critical to the success of your organisation, of course, but often more in support than in the creation of product. Personally I found that change of mindset (from law firm to in-house) a challenge but also a very good lesson in understanding the nature of my role in-house in the context of each organisation I have worked in.
For me, this change of mindset has helped me appreciate that I can use my legal skills at AIMS to be a part of delivering world-class science that will benefit reefs and the marine environment across the world for years to come without having to get a PhD in marine biology, chemistry or oceanography!
What are the biggest changes you’ve witnessed across the legal sector since you joined the profession?
The increasing prominence of in-house roles is the obvious one to me.
Finish this sentence… If I wasn’t a lawyer I’d be…
Can I change the question? If I wasn’t a lawyer I’d want to be an architect, but unfortunately there is the small problem of not having any drawing or design skills to speak of.
I grew up in Canberra with parents who were both Commonwealth public servants, so in reality if I wasn’t a lawyer I’d probably be a public servant without a practising certificate (rather than my current role as a public servant with a practising certificate!)
I like being a part of the ACC Australia community because…
It connects me with a huge network of like-minded and generous in-house lawyers across the country. There are a handful of in-house lawyers based here in Townsville, but not many. For those of us working outside the capital cities, ACC Australia provides such a good way of staying connected to other in-house lawyers. ACC Australia also gives its members so many opportunities to be involved and contribute in ways that suit their different situations, skills and interests.
Andrew is a part of the New to In-house Special Interest Group as well. The New to In-House Special Interest Group (NTIH SIG) is designed to be a place where lawyers who are in the early stages of their career or have recently made the transition from private practice to the in-house legal world can gain additional support, benefit from tailored learning opportunities and have the opportunity to acquire knowledge from and network with other lawyers who are in a similar position.
Click here to find out more about the NTIH SIG.