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In-house legal jobs in Australia can lead to general counsel role

Posted by: Laurence Simons 11/12/12

As Christmas looms ahead of us like a juggernaut of consumerism and familial regret, many people are thinking about where they're going to do their shopping. In many ways, this is straightforward.

If you want to buy that special someone a pair of inexpensive and tacky earrings, go to Accessorize. If you want to buy them reasonably-priced light-bulbs, go to Poundland. For eggs, go to a nearby henhouse. It's easy.

And it seems the same approach is being applied to the hiring of general counsel in ASX100 firms, with Australian in-house legal jobs seen as perfect preparation for the top role because of the extensive business experience they provide.

According to figures published by the Australian Corporate Lawyers Association (ACLA), some two-thirds of general counsel came from the in-house ranks over the last 12 months. With a quarter of businesses not even considering those in private practice at all when hiring, it seems clear that young lawyers hoping to reach the position of GC should consider a company-orientated career.

The report - which was launched to examine the composition, professional background and legal practice environment of Australia's senior legal decision makers - also found that the general counsel role is seen as increasingly significant "as risk and compliance environments facing Australian companies become increasingly complex".

While it was not possible for the survey to discover the exact size of the legal departments within many ASX100 firms, 92 per cent of the companies questioned had someone filling the role of general counsel and several also had large teams of lawyers.

"As the status and stature of in-house lawyers rises, the profession is opening up to more opportunities in both corporations and government bodies," said ACLA chief executive officer Trisha Hyde.

"The head of a legal department can act as a trusted advisor to an organisation, and [is] someone who understands and influences the organisation's business needs," added Ms Hyde.

In Australia specifically, the ongoing mining boom - which has seen the economies of Western Australia and Queensland enjoy tremendous levels of growth and perform considerably better than many of their counterparts in the Antipodes - "has had a slight impact on the location of the registered office of the general counsel", concluded the ACLA chief.

While in-house legal jobs may have been traditionally seen as less glamorous and exciting as private practice, recent reports such as this one and the 2012 HBR Law Department Survey indicating that remuneration in the sector is up showcase how the area has become a very desirable destination for many lawyers.