Legal teams pilot ‘lawyer swap’ program

In-house lawyers from unrelated organisations have undertaken the first cross-organisational swap.

Legal teams pilot ‘lawyer swap’ program
In-house teams at Telstra and Westpac ‘swapped’ lawyers as part of a three-month pilot secondment program.

The two lawyers, legal counsel for technology and Telstra operations Henrietta Jones and Bronwyn James, special counsel for technology, enterprise and digital legal, made the switch to share ideas and bring them back to their respective organisations.

“It has been fascinating to see how two legal teams, of a similar size and calibre, are grappling with similar challenges – such as ‘doing more with less’ and the pace of rapid technological and business change,” Jones told Australasian Lawyer.

“It is a real privilege to step into a new organisation without having to leave the comfort and security of your existing environment.”

While secondments between firms and clients are common, this was the first time in-house teams have attempted a swap and following its success, it’s something both Westpac and Telstra will look to do more of.

Jones said that working in private practice, she undertook secondments with key clients, having previously worked with them as an external advisor.  But, in the case of a cross-organisational swap, Jones said she had no prior exposure to Westpac or the legal team.

“Getting up to speed very quickly on the organisation, client structure, processes and house risk positions was definitely a challenge – particularly in the context of pressing vendor negotiations,” she said.

Westpac and Telstra have legal teams of a similar size; Telstra with an in-house team of around 200 and Westpac around 130.  Jones said that both organisations offer internal secondment programs where lawyers can rotate throughout the business.

“This arrangement was unusual however as it took place between two unrelated companies, collaborating to obtain alternative perspectives to better serve our clients,” she said.

“Hopefully both organisations will consider participating in future opportunities just like it.”

Westpac’s chief compliance officer & group general counsel Rebecca Lim said that while the program has been positive in terms of personal development for the lawyers involved, it’s also encouraged idea sharing between teams.

“We are delighted with the outcome of our first lawyer exchange,” Lim said.

“The program has also generated a lively exchange of ideas on issues such as the use of technology tools for lawyers, best practices for capturing knowledge within the department and initiatives to enable our lawyers to engage with our end customers.

“Given the success of this pilot, we are certainly inspired to look for similar forms of ongoing engagement with other in-house legal teams.  I believe there is much to be gained from collaborative programs such as this.”

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