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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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Susan Dalliston

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 Susan Dalliston, General Counsel & Company Secretary, Seeing Machines and member of the 2022 National Conference Programming Committee.

Tell us about your current role. 

I'm General Counsel & Company Secretary for Seeing Machines, a global company, based in Canberra, with driver monitoring AI technology that enables machines to see, understand and assist operators of cars, trucks and planes. 

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

My one-word answer is perspective. You need to be true to yourself and have the courage of your convictions but you can't bludgeon internal customers with legal righteousness. What sets an in-house lawyer apart is the need to balance an assumption of risk and pragmatism, with legal protection. I usually know I’ve got it right if the business accepts me as a trusted advisor but if I find myself avoided and blindsided, I know I need to work harder.  

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

It was a process of working out what I was NOT good at after working in private practice and government roles. I was at the point where I was questioning my career choice when I decided to try for an in-house role and I’m so glad I did. For me, it’s the fast pace and constant variety that suits me perfectly.  

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

Getting a seat at the table can be the biggest challenge. Many companies don’t value their in-house counsel, viewing them as a roadblock rather than an enabler. My advice is to work first on the relationship with the CEO and key executives by focusing on adding value. Make their lives easier with fast processes, easy to use templates and quick turnaround times. Try to avoid ever hearing “it’s currently sitting with Legal”! Learn as much as possible about the business and learn to speak the language. But if all else fails, don’t ever sell out your integrity or put your reputation at risk. No job is ever worth that.

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

The degree sets the ideal foundation to grasp legal reasoning, research and court process but it doesn’t teach business administration. For in-house lawyers, understanding management, business administration and financial acumen is as essential as the law component. Law degrees train rigid thinking but the key to success in-house is flexibility, adaptability and creative thinking in finding solutions. 

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

In the in-house space, there has been an exponential growth in the ‘non-legal’ aspects of the role. Particularly with GC roles, there is a greater requirement for leadership skills, strategic advice and operational involvement. The need to keep up with technology and lean into digital transformation is huge but it has also come at a cost. Since COVID, I’ve noticed a further erosion of the distinction between home and office and therefore between ‘office hours’ and ‘home hours’.  

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

a better mother. The legal profession is not a 9 to 5 job and the guilt that you have sacrificed family time for your career never goes away.

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

I can’t speak highly enough of the benefits of being a member of ACC Australia. I owe my career development in part to the networking opportunities, CPD offerings and the friendships I’ve made. I’m constantly amazed by the generosity of ACC members in giving their time to help other members and build the in-house community. ‘By in-house, For in-house’.