Australian Unity Trustees executive GM: Always back yourself and say yes to opportunities

Kirstin Follows believes that with the rise of AI, lawyers need to champion their value proposition

Australian Unity Trustees executive GM: Always back yourself and say yes to opportunities
Kirstin Follows

For Kirstin Follows, the best part of being executive general manager of trustees at Australian Unity is being able to observe the career development of her colleagues.

The in-house star made the transition from a legal star to an operational position, and she has enjoyed the challenge of exercising a different aspect of her skillset. Follows believes that lawyers need to be willing to bet on themselves and take on opportunities to do new things.

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In this interview, Follows talks the rise of AI and ChatGPT and what it means for lawyers, and what her original life plan was.

What made you choose a career in law, and what's your favourite part of your job?

I was doing my honours degree in criminology and did a work placement in the litigation unit at WorkSafe Victoria. This brief experience inspired me to continue studying and I completed my law degree. I started out in the personal injury defendant space before going in-house, which is where I’ve spent the majority of my legal career.

The best part of my job as executive general manager of trustees at Australian Unity is watching the career development of people who I have been lucky enough to work with. Supporting and championing others is always the best part of any job I have done and is even more special when you are being supported and encouraged from colleagues.

What is going on at Australian Unity Trustees? Are there any new programs and initiatives that you’re particularly interested in?

 We have a lot going on at Australian Unity Trustees. Our business works with Australians at their most vulnerable, whether it’s individuals with mental illness, families navigating conflict or elder abuse, or individuals wanting to continue providing philanthropic funding after their passing. We’re also regularly appointed as trustees to manage compensation distributions to litigants after court rulings. Just recently, our business was appointed as trustee to distribute $27.5m to as many as 240 Indonesian people who were wrongly imprisoned as children in Australia’s adult prisons between 2010 and 2012. We’re proud to be playing a meaningful role working alongside law firm Ken Cush & Associates to assist these people and their families move on from the trauma they experienced.

We’re also investing in new technology so I’m looking forward to rolling that out across the business and seeing all the flow on improvements that this brings for our customers and people.

As the (official) EGM – trustees at Australian Unity, what are some plans you have in the pipeline for 2024?

 I’m very fortunate to be surrounded by a great group of legal and financial experts and we’re all very privileged to be able to offer trust management, financial attorney, and financial and legal administration services to individuals who are often in vulnerable circumstances, so I’m really looking forward to delivering excellent outcomes for these clients and growing in a sustainable way.

This year we’ve all committed to implementing new technology into our work and using it to improve our customer experience. We’re also tailoring several of our trustee services to supporting personal injury and class action lawyers, especially firms where a lawyer is appointed as a financial administrator but may require extra financial, technological or administrative support when it comes to managing and distributing compensation funds.

What has been your proudest accomplishment in the last year or so? Or what’s the biggest lesson you learned in the past year and what advice can you give fellow lawyers about it?

 My proudest accomplishment last year was taking the leap from a legal role into an operational role. The challenge of running a P&L and having accountability for decision making is such a great challenge as it uses a different part of the brain from many of my previous roles.

The career lesson for lawyers is to always back yourself and say yes when opportunities like this present themselves and you’re ready for the role. I’d encourage fellow lawyers to have a go at new things and commit to lifelong learning.

What should the profession focus more on?

I hesitate to speak for the legal profession as a whole, but with the rise of AI and ChatGPT it is really fundamental for lawyers to understand and champion their value proposition. We need to embrace new technology at the same time as being able to demonstrate, measure and articulate the value lawyers bring to the table.

This means we need to be pragmatic about what can be let go while we embrace new ways of doing things and seeing the opportunity to demonstrate more meaningful contributions for clients and in workplaces.

 What challenges are particularly pressing in Australia’s in-house legal space?

 Embracing new ways of working, AI, letting go of habitual old ways and really listening to what clients need and value from their legal business partners.

 What are you looking forward to the most in 2024?

 I’m looking forward to getting completely immersed in the trustees business and enjoying learning a new business and a new job. And of course, seeing the positive social impact our team delivers, whether it’s playing a role to prevent elder abuse or helping individuals with complex blended families ensure their assets are safe.

 If you weren’t in law, what do you think you’d be doing as a career?

My original life plan was to teach or work in the diplomatic service. Being of service is something that is important to me, and it wasn’t until I got a better understanding of what a career in the law could be that I saw a path for myself that could embrace purpose with the law. My current role is now a lovely combination of working with a social purpose using my legal background and team building skills. I feel very fortunate to be given this incredible opportunity.

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