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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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Member in the Spotlight - Chris Adamson

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 Chris Adamson, Associate General Counsel, Legal, Regulatory and Compliance, QIC, and winner of the ‘New to In-house Lawyer of the Year’ at the 2022 ACC Australia Corporate Lawyer Awards.

Tell us about your current role.

I am an Associate General Counsel in the Legal, Regulatory and Compliance Team at QIC reporting to Jaelle Berkovits (General Counsel Asset Management) and lead a team of Senior Legal Counsel. Prior to joining QIC in September 2021, I was a Special Counsel at Allens with over 20 years’ experience specialising in retail and commercial leasing on a national level acting for national landlord and tenant clients and managing a team of senior and junior lawyers and a paralegal team. Only a few short months after joining QIC, I was asked to step into the role of Acting General Counsel – Real Estate (in addition to my Associate General Counsel role). During 2022 I was leading a team of more than 15 legal professionals providing legal support to QIC Real Estate’s business in Australia and the United States.

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

Commerciality and the ability to decipher commercial instructions.  

There is a skill in asking the right questions to be able to draw out the relevant information and ensure that we have the relevant issues on which we are providing advice always with that commercial overlay. 

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

I wanted to be at the forefront of the decision making. I believe that by involving legal early, particularly in larger projects, you can make a difference to the outcome and avoid legal issues and even disasters.

Some years ago, a savvy in-house lawyer involved me (when I was in private practice) at the outset when planning a redevelopment of a centre. That centre would be doubled in size. Together we trained the entire commercial team from the architect, developers, leasing executives, lease administration, communications and centre teams in how to deal with that redevelopment including dealing with the sitting tenants, relocation / demolition notices and communication. That exercise meant that we had very little in the way of issues during the redevelopment. We opened over 200 shops in one line all on the scheduled opening date with the other stages to follow. It was a resounding success.

What advice would you offer to in-house counsel in building relationships within their organisations?

I encourage in-house counsel to actively build and nurture relationships within the organisation at your relevant level. 

For me that meant, building relationships with the key decision makers. When I started at QIC I didn’t necessarily know who they were, but I asked. I have also ensured that those in my team meet others in the commercial teams at their respective levels so that they can grow and nurture those relationships throughout their journey. Start by just setting up a coffee invite (or Teams) so that you can start building that connection.  

When meeting with them ask questions such as – How are we doing? Is there anything we can do to make your job easier and more streamlined (and cost effective)? What training can we provide you?  

Alternatively you may already have some ideas on what training their team could do with. You could put together training modules or proposed updates in processes for their team.  

I like to keep in mind that as an in-house counsel it is really up to us how we deliver the legal services we provide. Sometimes it is about the messaging which helps with how new processes are accepted by commercial teams – such as, here is your new process that is going to be much more cost effective / manage risk for you and your team. It is about taking them along on the journey.

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

How to be commercial. That is another overlay you learn along the way. I always think, what would I want to do if I owned this asset? Of course, I also ask the commercial operatives and listen to their explanations, but it helps to have a mindset of what would I do in their place.

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

Where do I begin – there have been so many.  

The biggest changes however have been in technology and its use in the legal sector. Expectations in the delivery of legal services have increased with our clients requiring quick responses in addition to measuring the value the legal team provides. This has led to a shift towards advancements in technology making it easier and more efficient to generate and manage documents resulting in a more consistent output. We are working with less people and less time and need to work smarter. Technology can assist us with that. At QIC we use Neota and have developed apps to assist our commercial teams. For example, we created a Tenant Default Guide for Centre Management to prepare their own payment reminder letters, payment plans and even instruct the external lawyers direct on debt recovery, so the Centre teams can be self-sufficient in this space.   

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

A wildlife ranger. I love trekking the wilderness.

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

I want to give back to the community. I have had such great mentors and people who have helped me become my best self and I want to see others have the same opportunity to achieve whatever it is they want to achieve.