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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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Michael Guilday

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 Michael Guilday, General Counsel, Sydney Fish Market Pty Ltd and winner of the 'Sole Legal Officer of the Year' at the 2021 ACC Australia Corporate Lawyer Awards.

Tell us about your current role.
I am the sole legal practitioner at Sydney Fish Market Pty Ltd. I am also SFM’s first ever General Counsel.

Since commencing in April 2020, I have established the entire internal legal capability from scratch. This has involved transforming the way legal services are delivered to the organisation, as previously an entirely outsourced model was in place. 

As General Counsel, I am responsible for:

  • providing legal support for significant transactions and supporting strategy for the business;
  • providing legal advice and working collaboratively across the organisation to manage legal and other risks;
  • corporate governance, including being a trusted advisor to SFM’s Board; and
  • being a member of SFM’s Executive Team and providing leadership to the business on key projects and commercial matters impacting on the Board’s responsibilities and SFM’s operations.

One of my main functions as GC is to help oversee all legal and commercial aspects of the development of the New Sydney Fish Market on behalf of SFM. 

What do you believe is the most important skill an in-house lawyer needs?
Stakeholder management. While this can mean different things to different people, to me it means that in-house legal needs to “have a seat at the table” and be consulted on all issues of fundamental importance to the business, and not just those issues which are judged to be legal in nature. This includes being present when critical business decisions are being made.  

I believe that in-house lawyers need to recognise that they are a critical part of an organisation’s ecosystem. Just like any other member of the business, an in-house lawyer’s value will be judged on how that person interacts with and is able to influence internal and external stakeholders, and in particular the strengths of those relationships.    

What led you to pursue an in-house legal role?
I was a private practice lawyer for around 15 years. When I returned to Australian from Hong Kong about 10 years ago, I felt it would be hard to fit into a senior private practice role because I had no pre-existing client following. 

So I fell into an in-house role pretty much by default. At first, I treated my role working in-house the same way as working in private practice. However, over time, I learned that it was more important to build stakeholder relationships and become part of the business itself, rather than being viewed as being a provider of services to the business. 

What advice would you offer to in-house counsel in building relationships with their organisations
If you’re new to in-house legal or about to embark on you’re first in-house role, I suggest taking a look at “The First 90 Days”, or at least a summary of it. It’s a management text focussing primarily on leadership, but many of the principles can be applied in the context of in-house lawyers navigating the transition from private legal practice to a mainstream business organisational environment. 

There are now also many great in-house legal blogs available on the Internet which I find invaluable, for example Sterling Miller’s fabulous “Ten Things” series.

What is the one thing a law degree doesn’t teach you about being an in-house lawyer?
Customer experience (CX!). The law is infamous for being difficult to access and understand, but we are living in a consumer age which is being driven by technological advancement and digital transformation. This means it is no longer acceptable for lawyers to provide advice which is difficult to interpret and too complicated to apply properly. In-house lawyers are often charged with having to improve the user experience of dealing with legal problems, even if this is just helping to interpret advice provided by external law firms and apply it in currently in the context of an organisation’s particular circumstances.   

What are the biggest changes you’ve witnessed across the legal sector since you joined the profession?
The role of technology in making the law more accessible. When I started practising law, you needed to work in a law firm to provide legal services because they had all copies of the legislation and case law in a law library!  

We have now moved very significantly away from that situation to one in which a lawyer working in-house (and pretty much anyone else) can now access to the same level of legal information at the same time as lawyers working in law firms.  

Finish this sentence… If I wasn’t a lawyer I’d be…
Possibly a musician? At school I studied music and wanted to pursue song writing and performing as a career. Unfortunately, I was counselled away from having those much more creative and interesting career aspirations and ended up going to law school!

I like being a part of the ACC Australia community because…
The ACC Australia community is friendly and accessible. I would encourage all in-house lawyers to attend CLE and other events for great networking opportunities. It has been reassuring to me to find there are others out there who are in a very similar position and facing similar challenges. 


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