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 Kripi Bhatt, Legal Counsel at CPB Contractors, and a participant in Season 1 of the inaugural ACC podcast series.
Tell us about your current role.
I am presently an in-house lawyer at a construction company, CPB Contractors (a part of CIMIC Group). My role predominantly involves providing advice in relation to complex contracting arrangements in relation to, infrastructure (road, rail, water, tunnels etc) and construction (buildings, hospitals etc.) projects, public-private partnerships during the tender phase or throughout the lifecycle of a project and general commercial matters like leasing and procurement of IT services.
What do you believe is the most important skill an in-house lawyer needs?
The most important skill an in-house lawyer needs is the ability to think commercially. You may deeply know the black-letter law but having that commercial understanding would help you analyse the real risks and develop mitigation strategies around it.
In-house lawyers also need to be versatile and jacks of all trades. Not only do we need to understand the business and its risks, the engineering, the suppliers, the quality control, the shipment but we also need to be able to assist different parts of business such as the accounting, marketing, HR, IT etc.
What led you to pursue an in-house legal role?
I would say ‘circumstances’ in my case. I am originally qualified and was practicing law in India. When I moved to Australia in 2015, I found myself facing the task of re-entering the legal profession. The process to re-qualify as a lawyer in Australia entails completion of studies and other prerequisites such as practical legal training and English proficiency test. As a Foreign Qualified Lawyer, in addition to the requalification process, you are also faced with a more daunting challenge to find a suitable opportunity as a lawyer in the Australian legal market.
Despite my experience in India, I essentially had to start from scratch. I went for the unpaid voluntary work at different community legal centres which eventually led to short-term casual roles. With consistent efforts, I got an opportunity as a paralegal which soon turned into a legal counsel role in a large corporate. I have now grown as an in-house legal counsel with a top tier construction company. Although it was a challenging journey, I love every moment of being an in-house counsel.
What advice would you offer to in-house counsel in building relationships with their organisations
As a first step, take the time to get to know your organisation as well as the business, learn everything about the potential risk and understand the risk appetite of the business.
Be approachable and actively listen to your client’s need. Keep your advice simple, solution focused and in plain English. It is very important to think from your client’s perspective and to make them believe that you are on their side. As trust builds, the relationship will automatically grow as well. Having said that, also hold your ground when necessary to do so.
What is the one thing a law degree doesn’t teach you about being an in-house lawyer?
As in-house counsels we are ‘risk mitigators’. Law schools don’t teach you risk mitigation strategies, equip you with commercial understanding or help you develop soft skills. We need to be on ground to learn these skills. My advice to law students or new lawyers would be to focus on obtaining maximum exposure in different areas of law, trying different career options and actively working towards building soft skills like communication, adaptability, time management, interpersonal skills etc.
What are the biggest changes you’ve witnessed across the legal sector since you joined the profession?
Definitely the rise of technology!! Our industry is probably one of the last industries to make peace with technology. But in the last couple of years, ‘legal tech’ and ‘innovation’ have become the new buzz words. COVID-19 has also been a substantial push for the industry to embrace technology and adapt news ways to do business.
Also, in-house legal teams are now increasingly valued as in integral part of the business and being heavily relied upon by the Executive Leadership Teams.
Finish this sentence… If I wasn’t a lawyer I’d be…
A professional scuba diver!
I like being a part of the ACC Australia community because…
ACC has given me an opportunity to meet like-minded people in the legal industry and open my eyes to all things in-house. ACC has helped me explore the possibilities outside of my day job and contribute to the community in my own way. By being part of the ACC, I feel like I have unlocked a great support network.
Kripi Bhatt features on Season 1 of In-house Insiders, ACC’s exciting new podcast series.
In this episode, Kripi shares how her career played out in her home country of India, the challenges of requalifying and obtaining a job in Australia and the amazing moment where she threw down the gauntlet and challenged an employer to give her a shot.
In-house Insiders is available on all major podcast platforms so listen free today!