‘Work to do’ on perception of GCs

New Zealand lags behind the US and UK in terms of how in-house teams are perceived, the general counsel of one of New Zealand’s biggest companies says.

There is work to do around how GCs are perceived in the industry in New Zealand, the general counsel of one of New Zealand’s biggest companies says.

Karen Clayton, general counsel (GC) at Mighty River Power, came to New Zealand after a decade long stint in the in-house team at National Grid UK, five of which were at the helm as general counsel and company secretary.

“Leaving aside size and scale, I am struck that there is remarkable similarity in the kinds of issues in house legal teams are grappling with notwithstanding where they are in the world,” she told NZLawyer.

“I feel I can say this  given my 11 years in-house experience in the UK, during which time I worked closely with my US counterpart and his team in National Grid’s US business, and having spent some time in the Australian market, and now New Zealand.”

What she has noticed, however, is the difference in how the role of the GC and the in-house legal team is perceived in the business between here and the UK.

“I think there is work to do on this.

“In the UK (and US) the role of the GC is seen as much more strategic and business critical than it appears to me to be in NZ.

“I think this is, in part, due to the comparative immaturity of the New Zealand in-house market but is definitely something I want to get to the bottom of and spearhead a revolution on.”

Clayton qualified in 1999 after training at Herbert Smith, before working in dispute resolution at Mallesons Stephen Jaques in Melbourne and Osborne Clarke.

She joined National Grid in 2003, and become the company’s GC in 2009.

Clayton’s comments coincide with the release of results of an international study which showed many in-house counsels felt their business often failed to explain their commercial decisions effectively.

The study, the Eversheds Global M&A report, surveyed 159 people from 34 different countries, with general counsel or senior in-house lawyers making up 80 percent of respondents and CEOs and other senior executives involved in M&A transactions accounting for the remaining 20 percent.

More than two-thirds of in-house lawyers said they experienced tensions or significant differences with colleagues when planning a divestment, and shaking hands on a deal before any legal issues were resolved was a common source of frustration for in-house teams.

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