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 Marisa Muchow, General Counsel at Metricon Group, who received an honourable mention in the 2021 ACC Top 10 30-Something list.
Tell us about your current role.
I’m General Counsel of the Metricon Group. I lead a small highly experienced dynamic team to deliver advice across Metricon’s various operations. We cover a broad range of matters for Metricon with no two days being the same.
Metricon is Australia’s largest volume home builder and operates in Victoria, Queensland, New South Wales and South Australia.
What do you believe is the most important skill an in-house lawyer needs?
Aside from a very in-depth knowledge of many different areas of law, and the ability to juggle a number of issues at once, with competing timeframes, everything comes back to communication. It is the cornerstone of what makes an effective in-house counsel. The ability to change your communication style for your audience. As in-house counsel we have to provide advice to many different business areas across the company and being able to tailor your advice is key to delivering solutions at all levels of the company.
What led you to pursue an in-house legal role?
In my second year of law I was managing athletes and decided to attend a sports law conference to hear various talks about the sponsorship restrictions for the Olympics and anti-doping requirements.
There I met Mel (who is now a lifetime friend) who introduced herself by saying ‘I’m your dads’ lawyer’. My first thought was, what has he done to need a lawyer?
My dad (now retired) was General Manager of the Homemakers Group, which my family’s furniture store is a founding member. Mel was their external legal advisor.
In the years that followed, as I progressed through my law degree and took more of an active role in the family business, dad and I would catch up often for our dad and daughter golf challenges; between holes, when I wasn’t holding on for dear life, as dad would speed over mounds to get to my ball, we would talk about the various issues that the company was facing.
It was through hearing about the challenges faced by the Group and their use of lawyers to assist with a range of issues and remembering Mel saying how she enjoyed advising companies across various matters, that I wondered if companies employed their own lawyers full time.
In-house positions when I left university was not an option. After working in a firm straight after graduating, I knew very quickly that sitting in an office advising on one area of law was not for me.
So, when I was given the opportunity 9 months later to work for the Commonwealth Government as an in-house lawyer, working in the commercial legal team, to advise government on projects to assist industry, I jumped at the opportunity. I packed my bags and said goodbye to Brisbane and set off to Canberra which was home for the next 9 years.
What advice would you offer to in-house counsel in building relationships with their organisations
Be approachable, adopt an open-door policy but don’t only wait for the issues to find you. Actively walk the halls, or now days with virtual offices, scroll the active directory, make the call, connect with your colleagues. It doesn’t have to be about a specific matter, ask how they are, what is their area working on, what’s in the pipeline in the next few months. The objective is to bridge the gap between people’s perception to only use lawyers when things go wrong and instead remind them legal is there to assist the business to understand the goal posts and how the law applies to the business at every stage.
Demonstrate that you understand and want to learn about what goals and objectives the business is trying to achieve. Tailor your communication to the audience, understand their needs and provide practical advice that is solutions focused.
Lastly, there will be times the business doesn’t want to hear the advice or they will test your recommendation, back yourself, it’s how you deliver the hard advice that will build credibility and reliability that you are not there to tell them what they always want to hear but rather what is necessary.
What is the one thing a law degree doesn’t teach you about being an in-house lawyer?
Emotional intelligence. A law degree teaches you how to think critically, question, research, apply the law. It doesn’t teach you self-awareness, social skills, self-regulation, motivation. These ‘soft skills’ are important to be effective as an advisor.
What are the biggest changes you’ve witnessed across the legal sector since you joined the profession?
While legislation and case law will continue to evolve, many of the major changes impacting the legal profession are technological and cultural.
Implementation of technology to assist in delivery of matters and tools to the business is important, as not only a value add but also to allow lawyers to focus on high value work rather than answering the same questions over and over.
Covid has seen a shift by necessity to flexible working arrangements. I believe this will stay and is the way of the future if workplaces are to attract and keep the best talent.
New law has been emerging for several years, but Covid certainly contributed to speeding up and creating new offerings in this space. The traditional model of briefing to a firm for advice is now one of many options available. The flexibility offered by these models also challenges the traditional in-house lawyer model, allowing for companies to drop lawyers in-house as and when needed, to coincide with projects and increased workflow.
Finish this sentence… If I wasn’t a lawyer I’d be…
A sports agent or a diplomat. Both deal with people of questionable character and require a sound knowledge of the law. Honestly, I love Ballers and West Wing and like many people think law is just like Suits- right? That’s why I would try my hand at those careers.
I like being a part of the ACC Australia community because…
The answer is in the question - community. It’s a group of people with shared interests and it’s through that interest that ACC provides tools, support, learning and networking opportunities.
The opportunities afforded to me during my time as a member, which have included being part of the ACT Committee, a member of the Board, a mentor and a mentee, being part of a panel at a conference, speaking at ACC regional events, has provided me with skills and insights that have contributed to my development as a lawyer and greatly assisted in my in-house career.
Lastly, of most significance the people. I have met and forged both professional and personal relationships with many ACC members over the years and this really is the highlight of being part of the ACC Community being able to connect and share ideas with likeminded people.