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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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Nathan Lanthois

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 Nathan Lanthois, Chief Legal and Commercial Officer of Transdev Australasia and winner of the 'In-house Lawyer of the Year' at the 2021 ACC Australia Corporate Lawyer Awards.

Tell us about your current role.

I am the Chief Legal and Commercial Officer of Transdev Australasia. In my role I am responsible for the provision of legal and commercial advice for Transdev’s public transport operations. I am also an Executive Director of Transdev and its subsidiaries, Company Secretary, a member of Transdev’s Executive Team, and responsible for risk management, insurance and procurement. I have been fortunate to be involved along with our very talented team of four lawyers in some iconic transport projects for Transdev including Sydney Ferries (including financing for new vessels), Sydney Light Rail PPP, Parramatta Light Rail and the recent bus privatisation projects in NSW.

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

Being solution orientated is an incredibly important skill for in-house lawyers. We are often trained to identify risks, but the ability to aid in the growth of the business by finding appropriate solutions to those risks and also focusing on opportunities is key. It’s a great way to become close to the business rather than just being an adviser to it. 

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

I spent three years in private practice in Adelaide, mainly in commercial litigation. I wanted to be more involved in making business decisions rather than often just dealing with the consequences, so made the move in-house. I joined the Department of Defence in Canberra to gain exposure to the world of Defence and was lucky enough to work in my first in-house role on a large number of aerospace projects such as the FA/18 Hornet and Hawk Lead-In Fighter. My interest in major projects has continued over the last 18 years through my involvement in large infrastructure projects.

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

Strong legal skills are not enough. The truth is - there are always incredibly competent lawyers in most organisations and in private practice firms able to offer legal advice to a business. Having strong business acumen to really understand the specific needs of your organisation and demonstrating a willingness to help grow the business (by finding practical solutions) fosters a strong relationship with all business colleagues. The Transdev Legal Team often assist with undertaking risk assessments for the business and preparing and reviewing tender returnables and identify opportunities to improve bottom line growth. The willingness to focus on opportunities (whilst playing a key role in identifying and managing the risks) and being commercially driven builds relationships and can actually lead to the Legal Team taking on additional responsibilities such as contract management, risk analysis, procurement etc.

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

The right legal solution often isn’t the right business solution. Our law degrees teach us to find the correct legal position, but the benefit of in-house knowledge and experience is the ability to immerse yourself in the business and apply business sense to that legal position.

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

The biggest changes are actually linked to the growth of in-house roles. In my first few in-house roles, I spent a significant (almost disproportionate) amount of time managing external lawyers for matters farmed out to top tier firms. Over the years however there has been (including due to external events such as the GFC and COVID) significant pressure to reduce external legal expenditure. This has led to more quality work undertaken internally as in-house legal teams are called upon more and more to be front and centre on important business (and not just legal) matters.

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

In the military – trying to fly one of those fighter jets!

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

It’s a fantastic way of staying up to date with current issues which are often specific to in-house lawyers. Access to international content tailored for in-house counsel in Australia is also a great way of keeping up to date with what is likely to be around the corner for Australian businesses.