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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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Irene Kuo

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 Irene Kuo, Manager, Legal – Projects, at Fortescue Metals Group Ltd, WA Committee member and member of the Legal Technology and Innovation special interest group.

Tell us about your current role.

I work within a team of very talented lawyers at Fortescue Metals Group, as Manager, Legal – Projects. My main role is to advise Fortescue’s Major Projects team on their larger construction and procurement contracts, focusing on the front end negotiation and contract management matters. It’s a dynamic role as the nature of projects is often fairly fast paced. I work closely with the GM and contracts managers of our Major Projects team to achieve our stretch targets. In the beginning, these stretch targets often seem impossible. However, I’m very fortunate to be working with an amazing team and together, we’ve been able to work through many challenges and achieve fantastic outcomes as a result.

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

Tough question! I think empathy, curiosity, and strategic commercial mindset are all equally important.  

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

I was always very commercially minded and discovered that my personality or rather, how I get my joy in my work probably isn’t compatible to working in private practice. However, I wasn’t really aware of any “in-house” roles per se, until my colleagues in private practice at that time started heading in-house and it opened my eyes to the possibilities of working at a company where I can utilise both my legal and commercial skills. This was around the same time that LinkedIn first took off in Australia, so I created a profile, and started applying for in-house roles. Soon after that I landed my first in-house role and I never looked back! 

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

Be prepared to have the realisation that you won’t likely be the smartest person in the room, but a healthy amount of curiosity, vulnerability and authenticity will help you build great relationships with different stakeholders in your organisation (I’m a massive Brené Brown fan!). Where possible, don’t hide behind emails. If the person you are emailing is also in the same building, pick up the phone or schedule a coffee catch up to understand the issues and workshop them together, then follow up with your legal advice or document via email. 


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

Stakeholder management and authentic leadership skills. Managing people and stakeholders in any context is hard, and no amount of study will prepare you for when you need to have tough conversations, especially to ensure that your legal advice is duly considered to enable the management team ultimately has the relevant details to make an informed decision.   

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

Apart from legal technology and AI which I think are the first things that come to anyone’s mind regarding this question, it’s the somewhat unexpected but very much welcomed increase in collegiality within the legal sector, particularly within our in-house community in Australia and globally, and this has been amazing to witness and experience.  

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

A fashion designer or an events manager!  I’m not good at sewing so may ultimately have to resort to the latter…? I recently designed our WA Division’s end of year Diamond Gala invitation which allowed me to exercise my creativity! 

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

I absolutely love being part of this community because of the amazing people who I’ve connected with in the Australian chapter, but also the wider global community!  I had travelled from Brisbane to Perth in 2017 for a secondment and ended up staying in Perth permanently (partly as I had met my now husband here in Perth!). Having grown up in Brisbane and studied in Brisbane, it was vital that I began building a new network of colleagues and friends in Perth whom I can “phone a friend” with. There are quirks and nuances in any new jurisdiction that are not always stipulated in a regulation or legislation, no matter how much you research! I started to attend ACC Australia events in Perth in late 2017, and joined the WA Division’s Committee in 2018. I now have a great circle of friends in Perth because of ACC Australia!