AGL group counsel: In-house lawyers should prioritise checking in with the business

Law awards judge Swee Yue Tan also believes that AI like ChatGPT can benefit the legal profession

AGL group counsel: In-house lawyers should prioritise checking in with the business
Swee Yue Tan

As AGL Energy Limited’s group counsel of tech and telecommunications, Swee Yue Tan has her pulse on the latest in the company’s strategic direction. However, she acknowledges that in-house lawyers may not always be in the loop when it comes to the ownership of business initiatives.

Thus, she encourages legal teams to prioritise following up with business stakeholders to prevent losing corporate knowledge and hindering progress. The 2023 Australasian Law Awards judge also urges the profession to see the value in capitalising on tech advancements like ChatGPT to improve productivity and efficiency.

In this interview, Tan talks cybersecurity threats, global warming, and the always-necessary human element in the art of lawyering.

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What has been your proudest accomplishment in the last year or so?

I’ve been privileged and honoured to be appointed as group counsel of technology and telecommunications at AGL Energy Limited, with my remit also including corporate procurement. This is an exciting period of change at AGL, with a refreshed strategy announced in September 2022 and a huge momentum within the organisation to implement the new strategic direction.

What’s the biggest lesson you learned in the past year and what advice can you give fellow lawyers about it?

One of the most crucial things for a busy in-house lawyer to bear in mind is the importance of effective follow-up with business stakeholders. This lesson has become more apparent to me in the past year. With many competing priorities in-house, and with the legal team usually not assigned as the owner of business initiatives with responsibility or accountability to see them through to completion, it is easy for some important issues to be left unaddressed by the business or we’re just kicking the can down the road.

In addition, as organisations face the “Great Resignation” more generally, this phenomenon may well lead to loss of corporate knowledge and the continuity or progress of initiatives. I’ve found it helpful to set reminders or tasks in my own calendar to “pop my head in” by checking in with the business and following up on particular initiatives.

What are you looking forward to the most in the coming year?

With the Privacy Act Review Report (released by the Attorney-General’s Department on 16 February 2023) currently undergoing the public consultation process, I’m looking forward to knowing where the 116 proposals will land. The cumulative effect of the proposed reforms will be substantial, and require significant effort by all organisations to implement organisational, process and system changes and update policies, collection notices and consents.

What’s on the horizon for the profession in the coming year?

There are several challenges or opportunities that the legal profession faces, but there are three that are top of mind for me. First, with the increasing and relentless global cybersecurity threats all organisations are facing, there will be an increasing focus by all businesses on privacy and data security issues, amidst a huge shift also in the legislative and regulatory landscape in this space. It will be critical for organisations (in collaboration with the legal team) to undertake an enterprise-wide effort on checking the vulnerabilities and current controls, uplifting and putting in place a robust framework, alongside an effective incident response plan.

Secondly, with the global warming and climate change impetus of moving quickly to achieving net-zero, switching to renewable sources of energy and accelerating the path towards decarbonisation, there will be a scramble for projects and capital, which will create a demand for lawyers specialising in energy, project financing, construction and environmental law, just to name a few. Not to mention a real focus by the regulators on the consumer law side in relation to greenwashing – the need for lawyers to scrutinise all claims about an organisation’s products and services, that they are accurate, transparent and reliable.

Finally, there is a huge opportunity for the profession to tap into generative AI apps like ChatGPT; yet as lawyers we can be resistant to change, and be hesitant and precautionary in our approach to adopt new technologies – sometimes for good reason. Having said that, there is much to benefit from utilising such platforms, as they boost productivity and efficiency for some legal tasks; however, there is also much to be said about how to use the “output” generated. The lawyer will need to check and filter out outdated or unsubstantiated information – the ‘rubbish in rubbish out’ quote holds true. And there is still the human element required of the lawyer to think critically and creatively about a client’s problem, exercise discretion and good judgment, and communicate that clearly to the client.

 

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