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 David Field, Chief Legal Counsel, Head of Quality, Safety & Environment, and Company Secretary, at Canon Oceania, member of the In-house In Health Special Interest Group, and a guest on Season 2 of the In-house Insiders podcast series.
Tell us about your current role.
I started at Canon Oceania as the Chief Legal Counsel and head of Quality, Safety & Environment, and subsequently added first Company Secretary, then the role as Director of People & Finance. That makes it a very broad role, but it’s a great opportunity to make an enterprise-wide contribution.
What do you believe is the most important skill an in-house lawyer needs?
I don’t think I can name a single “most important” skill, but I think in-house lawyers need good judgment, strong empathy for what the business leaders are trying to achieve, the ability to stay calm in a crisis, and the sort of sense of optimism that lets you focus on finding a way forward.
What led you to pursue an in-house legal role?
My move to in-house was the right decision, but for all the wrong reasons. My life was out of control in private practice, and I thought that in-house would be a better lifestyle choice. It turned out that private practice wasn’t the reason my life was out of control, the biggest reason was actually my attitude to work and inability to set proper boundaries. The real reason I should have moved to in-house was that I think the closeness to the business allows you to have a much more fulfilling role.
What advice would you offer to in-house counsel in building relationships with their organisations
You need to constantly look for ways to provide insights and opportunity for the business you serve. No matter how good a manager or executive is, they are still only human, and they still only see their business from at most a handful of different angles. As a lawyer, you get to see their business from different perspectives, meaning that if you keep your eyes open and stay curious, you can tell them valuable things about their business that they probably haven’t noticed. Where are strategies getting bogged down? Where are processes delivering the wrong outcomes for customers? Where is the business leaking revenue due to failure to enforce existing contractual rights, or mistakes and rework that are resulting in customer refunds? You should be searching for the moment when the internal client’s eyes go wide because you as the lawyer have delivered a totally unexpected insight or opportunity.
What is the one thing a law degree doesn’t teach you about being an in-house lawyer?
The law degree is only the barest beginning, so I can’t name just one thing – there are so many:
- Most of the time a business can’t afford a fine and precise legal answer – when a process needs to work effectively across a large number of different people in an organisation, you need an approach that has enough leeway in it to stay compliant in a wide range of different circumstances.
- Even when you are legally right, disputation can seriously erode the value in a business – in all but a very small number of cases, it’s important to structure your transactions so they are manifestly fair.
- Immature players try to push risk off to someone else. Experienced players try to put risk in the place it can be managed most efficiently.
What are the biggest changes you’ve witnessed across the legal sector since you joined the profession?
When I started we were using green-screen terminals connected to a mainframe, very few clients had email, and most correspondence came in and went out by fax. With more ubiquitous access to better and better technology, the pace of work has increased enormously.
Finish this sentence… If I wasn’t a lawyer I’d be…
Up until about three months before I sent in my application for law school, my first option for university was forestry. I have no idea where that would have taken me. Beyond that, I am generally happiest with a camera in my hand.
I like being a part of the ACC Australia community because…
It’s a community. I think we all have shared ownership of the communities in which we participate, and it’s critical to see yourself as a co-owner, responsible for the health and viability of your community.
David Field features on Season 2 of In-house Insiders, ACC Australia’s exciting podcast series.
David has followed a unique path to get to where he is today. Starting his career in Taiwan, he eventually returned to Sydney and roles in private practice.
But after jumping to an in-house role with Telstra, and staying there for 19 years, it’s safe to say he never looked back. In this episode, David shares how he found himself in Taiwan in the first place, his love for robotics and coding and how he sees the role of in-house counsel changing in the future.