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 Karina Veling, Legal Counsel at Coca-Cola Amatil, and a member of ACC Australia's In-house In Heath Committee.
Tell us about your current role.
I call myself a ‘COVID baby’ at work - I started as Legal Counsel at Coca-Cola Amatil in March and was lucky to have one day in the office before lockdown hit! My colleagues and I have very broad and diverse roles – we support the business across a number of areas, advising on everything from contracts, sales structuring, M&A deals, litigation, capital projects, employment, WHS and a lot of project work. It’s the most varied role I’ve ever had.
What do you believe is the most important skill an in-house lawyer needs?
This is always such a tough question. Personally I’d say it’s relationship building skills – it’s so important to be approachable, connected and comfortably able to build rapport with your key stakeholders. This helps the business build trust in the legal team and get them engaged from the outset, allowing the company’s lawyers to have more effective and meaningful input into business decisions.
What led you to pursue an in-house legal role?
Simply put – it was the first opportunity I ran into after leaving university! When I finished law school the idea of being an in-house lawyer was rarely spoken about. When I started I wasn’t sure what it really meant, but I loved every second of my role in a global in-house team. The commercial focus really kept me engaged, excited and constantly challenged.
What advice would you offer to in-house counsel in building relationships with their organisations
Building relationships and business connections is so important, so never underestimate it. Try and start by just being you – take the time to form a social connection (we’re all humans after all!) and it’ll make the business relationship a little easier. Of course that’s not always possible or necessary, so at a minimum make sure you illustrate your worth – what can you do for them? Show them they can’t live without you!
What is the one thing a law degree doesn’t teach you about being an in-house lawyer?
I think there’s some more work to do around communicating to non-lawyers. This is such a huge part of being a lawyer, especially when working in-house. Commercial guys don’t want to hear words like ‘indemnity’, ‘boilerplate’ or ‘force majeure’ (although COVID-19 has changed the latter!) Similarly, subjects need to be taught with a more commercial lens. Rather than just teaching what the law says and how the legal process works, it will hugely benefit students to study and practice hands-on practical ways of providing legal advice in a commercial and corporate setting.
What are the biggest changes you’ve witnessed across the legal sector since you joined the profession?
I’m really only a fresh fish, having just entered my 8th year. There definitely seems to be a rise of the ‘in-house lawyer’ and graduates wanting to use their commercial skills more practically. I also see a much bigger focus on mental health and the understanding that lawyers are humans too. I’m a member of ACC Australia’s In-house In Health Committee which works to explore how we can improve in-house lawyer’s general wellness and quality of life. As a committee we’re constantly putting together resources and events to help in-house lawyers navigate and manage their health and wellbeing in what is often a difficult environment.
Finish this sentence… If I wasn’t a lawyer I’d be…
A professional sportswoman, either soccer or cricket. I have the love for it, but unfortunately not much talent!
I like being a part of the ACC Australia community because…
When I started as an in-house lawyer straight after law school, I was certainly breaking the mould and felt a little out of place – all my peers were in private practice and having very different experiences. ACC Australia was (and still is) a fantastic way to connect with other corporate lawyers and upskill on areas that impact my daily work.