Inside In-House Podcast Episode 1: General Counsel as Trusted Advisers

Thomson Reuters is pleased to launch a new in-house podcast, capturing the voices of corporate counsel to ‘talk shop’ and swap stories. For episode one of Inside In-House, Tyrilly Csillag, Head of In-House and Commercial at Practical Law, approached a General Counsel with executive influence to speak on the program. The special first guest is Michelle Dillon, General Counsel – Asia Pacific for Verifone, a FinTech company offering point of sale technology. 

Tyrilly and Michelle go way back professionally, having worked together early in their careers within the same legal department. Here Tyrilly interviews Michelle on her in-house journey. Their conversation has a particular focus on the business acumen required to become a company’s APAC trusted legal adviser.

Podcast show notes

From law firm to in-house

Flexibility is a word you’ll hear a lot when you speak with corporate lawyers who opt to move in-house. In Michelle’s case, the in-house choice was not only a good opportunity to get back into the workforce after parenting two children, but her flexible attitude. 

I moved over to in-house by being flexible – that is the recurring theme you will hear in discussions with me. As a lawyer, the key to success in the professional world is to be flexible in your commercial and professional relationships, and your ability to adapt to different surroundings,” she explained. 

Pictured from left: Michelle Dillon, General Counsel – APAC, Verifone and Tyrilly Csillag, Head of In-House and Commercial – Practical Law, Thomson Reuters Asia and Emerging Markets

A day in the life

Tyrilly asked Michelle what a typical day looks like for her, steering the ship as a regional GC. To this, Michelle points out the flexible work hours and time zones to consider in a given work day. 

My day starts with New Zealand where it is two hours ahead and finishes with India, which is four and a half hours behind. Overnight I also engage with emails such as communications from the United States, so it is a very long day. Again, you need to be flexible and join calls at all times of the day, or sometimes at night,” she replied. 

As to the question of travelling, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic (when travel restrictions were not in place), Michelle would spend a lot of time abroad. 

“I spend a lot of time socialising with the teams in whichever country I’m in. To me that’s how I measure success. It is not just by the role or the title I have, or how big my team is. Success is in how much I enjoy my job, want to get up in the morning and go to work and the relationships that I have developed in the course of my career,” said the General Counsel. 

Earning a ‘seat at the table’

The podcast host pointed out that General Counsel are required to have a high degree of business acumen. So how has Michelle developed these skills over time, Tyrilly asked? The answer is simpler than you’d think: through relationships. 

To be able to do that, you need to develop good relationships where you’re not only seen just as a lawyer, but also as a true business partner and trusted adviser,” offered Michelle. 

Part of building this trust as a legal adviser is done through the use of astute empathy and understanding.

“I have helped the business realise that I’m here to assist them and get the deal done. To support them and not to be the stopper…you know, the gate that stops deals happening. It’s very important to show the business that you are there for them. Once you’ve earned their trust, you find that you are welcomed, involved, and your advice is asked for” 

– Michelle Dillon, General Counsel – APAC, Verifone

Michelle has been in a senior legal role for several years now and is part of the Corporate Executive Management Team at Verifone. The concept of having a seat at the table is critical for a General Counsel. Tyrilly asked her how she uses her role and skills to gain influence.

“Well, Tyrilly, first of all, you actually have to get that seat at the table. I gained that seat at the table both at Australia New Zealand level and also at the Executive level for Asia Pacific. I am also the only woman sitting at that table, and the longest standing Executive in Asia Pacific for Verifone,” said Michelle. 

“Over the years, I have learned how to make a difference by being at that table. You won’t be considered as a valuable member of the team unless you are contributing. It comes down to your commercial acumen, having learned that, again, through your flexibility and relationships, but also through continuously improving yourself. You should never get to a point in your career where you stop wanting to learn”

– Michelle Dillon, General Counsel – APAC, Verifone

Seeking external counsel 

From time to time, Michelle’s legal department seeks legal advice from external counsel. For the law firm listeners on the program, Tyrilly quizzed Michelle on the types of attributes she looks for in external counsel. 

First and foremost, she looks for lawyers who are commercially-minded. They don’t need to assist with lengthy legal explanations, but rather, provide more of an executive summary. It is important for Michelle to ensure her external counsel are on the same page commercially.

GC as a career goal 

There are no doubt many law graduates and junior lawyers in the profession whose goal is to land the role of a Chief Legal Officer or General Counsel. Michelle urged those with such career aspirations to think about the area they’d like to work in, and gain experience in that area. 

“If I’m hiring, I will not be looking to hire a lawyer without the experience. To move into an in-house position that will allow you to progress to be a General Counsel, you need to have had at least some experience in that industry,” she added. 

For another insightful conversation on driving your in-house career, particularly as someone with an appreciation of diversity and inclusion, listen to Gender Diversity from the Perspectives of In-House Lawyers on the Change Makers Podcast.

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