My career story: “I became a company’s first-ever GC”

Banking and finance lawyer Corinna Mitchell joined asset management group Pemberton Asset Management in 2015 as its first general counsel after a whirlwind six month secondment.

The former Dechert partner decided to move in-house to take on the role at a time to find a challenge that private practice couldn’t offer her – the chance to be involved at every level of a growing business.

Corinna Mitchell

Why did you decide to move in-house at partner level?

I had never actually managed to do a secondment in all my years as a private practice lawyer. One time I was in the middle of a very big deal and the firm sent someone else because I said ‘I don’t think I can leave this deal’ and as you get more senior it gets more difficult.

One of my funds colleagues at Dechert that does a lot of work for Pemberton suggested that they might appreciate a part-time secondee. I was very interested and I thought it was a great opportunity to get some experience in-house and get experience at a fund lender.

It became obvious that there was an opportunity and they asked me whether I would be interested in joining and I said yes.

What was the hardest part of transitioning in-house?

My first day was quite challenging. It was quite a contrast, having worked in very large well organised law firms, to come here where it is small and open plan. I had always had my own office, and an extensive team.

When I got over the difference in working environment I particularly enjoy working with the team and being more on the business side but still being a lawyer.

What I relished was understanding much more of the business and the business plan. The upside of open plan is that you can hear what is going on. I liked the challenge, understanding the businesses challenges and priorities better and having more input into the business.

How have you impacted the general counsel role since you started working in-house?

It’s been about delivering the work that needs delivering. I have attempted to drive consistency within the deal and other contractual terms. I think I’ve achieved a reasonable level of success.

I have attempted to drive some discipline around third party costs, saying ‘are we doing this in the most efficient way, are we getting good visibility on what this is going to cost on a specific item?’ When you are so busy, you need things done in a cost-efficient way.

What have you found out about private practice lawyers since you started working in-house?

I found out that people who spend a long time explaining things and talking on the phone can be incredibly irritating. You have so much to do in-house and this is one of ten deals you are looking at and other work too, and you just want the point that you are looking at. Lawyers who cut to the chase are valued.

What’s the best bit of advice you wish someone had given to you?

Trust your gut instinct. When people try to persuade you otherwise but if you have a strong reaction, stick to your gut. This applies even more in-house, because you may often be one of the only lawyers. Everyone has a network, you can always call people and get their viewpoint. If you have a view, it’s normally right.

What is the best piece of career advice you have ever received from anyone?

It wasn’t so much advice but a telling off when I was a trainee. It was in Australia and it was a piece of work that I had done where I hadn’t given a hundred percent of my effort. My supervisor said: “You aren’t a student anymore, this isn’t your best work”. That was good advice, you have to do your best work in everything that you do.