Author: Nell Van Weerdenburg
This article is based on Nell’s involvement in the NSW Young Lawyers event ‘Beyond Private Practice’. The event was a panel discussion where four lawyers shared their journeys into the world beyond private practice – to share advice with people interested in transitioning to in-house or alternative legal roles and curious to find out more about what career options are available.
My journey into the world outside of private practice has been an exciting and challenging one. Transitioning into an alternative legal role at LOD has given me the chance to deliver innovative solutions to clients that go far beyond providing just legal advice. I’m passionate about helping in-house lawyers be the best they can be.
Why go beyond private practice?
I have always been interested in process efficiency and working differently, particularly the idea of making small changes with huge impact. Working as a planning and environment/construction lawyer in private practice, I really enjoyed practising law but was seeking more alignment between my work and interest in continuous improvement. An opportunity came up at LOD to work in the Legal Operations and Tech team and I jumped at the chance to do something completely different while still working in law. I knew it was a leap worth taking – adding a new dimension to my career opportunities.
What work do you do now?
I help in-house teams succeed through delivering improvement, technology and change projects. This work focusses on people, processes, and systems. We help in-house teams across all sectors on a range of projects, including work relating to strategy, operational improvement, legal design, automation, and technology implementation.
These projects allow improvements in efficiency, effectiveness and well-being so lawyers can work less and be recognised and rewarded more. We help clients and lawyers to make better and faster decisions, maximise the use of systems, set legal function strategies and optimise legal spend.
I also work on secondment with clients to get a better understanding of their pain-points and the importance of the projects that we deliver. There is certainly no one-size-fits-all solution to the challenges and opportunities encountered by in-house lawyers. We love pushing boundaries and doing things a bit differently. Our whole business is set up to support the practice of law in an alternative way.
Favourite thing about working for a NewLaw provider?
By far the best thing about working for in-house teams is that you get to take a wider view than simply a legal one. You can solve business problems from a wider perspective, working with a range of stakeholders across a business. Being part of the Legal Operations and Tech Team at LOD means that I work with professionals with legal, tech, project management and Lean Six Sigma qualifications and am exposed to a huge amount of expert knowledge. That is invaluable to me.
What should young lawyers think about if they are considering broadening their horizons beyond private practice?
It is important to stay aware of trends and transitions within the legal services market. There are a few key things happening at the moment. The emergence of NewLaw is gaining more and more momentum to service evolving client needs. At the same time, in-house teams are under pressure to improve efficiencies as they are required to produce more results with fewer resources. They are searching for lawyers who are both productive and innovative. The earlier that young lawyers start to think about this the more appealing they will be to in-house teams. A good place to start is to begin to make suggestions and changes within your own team to build your continuous improvement and process efficiency skills.
If you could jump in a time machine, is there anything that you would do differently?
I would have started to diversify my skill set earlier to adapt to changes in the legal industry, for example, learning more about design thinking and Lean Six Sigma. I also would have sought a mentor outside of my organisation, ideally someone working in a senior in-house position to allow me to start thinking about the intricacies of in-house legal work and what it means to be a high-performing in-house team.