Fujitsu head of legal NZ: 'You're in the driver's seat'

Sarah Retter urges lawyers to add value to their organisations beyond their job descriptions

Fujitsu head of legal NZ: 'You're in the driver's seat'
Sarah Retter

Sarah Retter wanted to be a criminal lawyer, but life took her in-house instead. Today, she is heading up the legal team at Fujitsu NZ, and is loving the chance to work together with talented people.

Retter continues to be eager to learn more about the law, particularly in the field of ESG. In this interview, she discusses the need for a culture of learning and camaraderie, AI regulation, and her old dream of becoming a ballerina.

Why did you decide to pursue a career in law, and what do you enjoy most about your job?

I was attracted to law as I wanted to help people and make a difference. Initially, I planned to be a criminal lawyer. But my journey took a different turn. What I love most about my career is the opportunity to collaborate with talented individuals, contribute to our clients' success, and stay at the forefront of technological advancements.

Can you share some updates about your organization? Are there any new programs or initiatives that have caught your interest?

Our firm, Fujitsu, faces challenges that many others may be experiencing now, though on a bigger scale of complexity due to the international scope of the business and the types of cross-border challenges that we’re helping companies across the globe to navigate. Our two big focuses are on helping companies with their digital experience and sustainability experience transformations. I'm keen to learn more about how businesses adapt to the incorporation of AI in their technology solutions, as this is an area where Fujitsu is increasingly focused and providing consulting support.

Additionally, for our legal team, we're involved in several global projects that provide opportunities to collaborate with international colleagues to ensure legal aspects are addressed. Despite the challenges of coordinating across different time zones and requirements, it's rewarding to develop a unified strategy that caters to diverse needs.

Which tech-related initiatives implemented by your organization are you most enthusiastic about?

I'm excited about the upcoming implementation of a legal matter management system. This will be the most significant productivity boost for our legal and compliance team since we introduced our contract management system. We have already kickstarted our legal tech journey in that many of our less complex contracts which are requested by the business frequently can be created by the business themselves using a global automation tool, in addition to the “legal front door” request system that is in place and helps us to manage our workflow and prioritise demand for legal support.

Can you share your proudest achievement in the past year or a significant lesson you've learned? Do you have any advice for fellow lawyers based on this experience?

The most valuable lesson I've learned recently is the importance of taking charge of your own career path. Whether you're keen to acquire new skills, take on unique responsibilities, or carve out a new role for yourself, remember that you're in the driver's seat. You can shape any role according to your interests and goals. If you can contribute value beyond your job description, seize that chance. It's this initiative that distinguishes you from your colleagues.

What area should the legal profession pay more attention to?

The legal profession should prioritise the wellbeing of our young lawyers, fostering a culture of learning and camaraderie. We must establish environments where individuals can be themselves, mental health is not stigmatised, and work-life balance is achievable. The reality is that practicing law can be challenging, and we need to acknowledge this, address it, and equip our lawyers with resilience skills to manage it. This approach will encourage lawyers to remain in the profession, find fulfillment in their roles, and reduce the risk of perpetuating a cycle of burnout.

What challenges do you anticipate in your practice and the legal industry in general? What issues are particularly urgent in the country's legal sector?

As a professional in the technology industry, I expect the challenges associated with AI will grow, especially as AI tools become increasingly accessible. Lawyers will need to acquire new skills to continue providing value to our clients and organisations, which is a pressing concern for the legal industry.

AI regulation will also pose a challenge, especially when dealing with cross-jurisdictional matters, ensuring compliance regardless of where the AI is used, developed, or processed.

Furthermore, upcoming compliance requirements related to ESG in certain jurisdictions will require preparation and planning before they become obligatory. ESG compliance is a complex issue many organisations are grappling with, and it's a growing area of law in which in-house counsel must stay updated.

Mental health is one of the most urgent challenges in our industry. If we fail to address it, we risk losing many law students who may choose alternative career paths, depriving the industry of some of the country's brightest legal minds. We must acknowledge this issue, actively work to destigmatise mental health within the profession, and equip individuals with the tools to manage their mental health in high-pressure situations.

What are you most excited about in the upcoming year?

I'm eager to explore newer areas of law, including ESG. My current role is based in Oceania, which presents ample opportunities for learning in this field – a topic I'm extremely interested in.

If you weren't in the legal profession, what career path do you think you would have pursued?

If I hadn't pursued law, I would have likely found a career in the arts. Initially, I dreamed of being a ballerina. Now I'd be more inclined towards a career in fashion or costume design.


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