Interview with Marion Hemphill,
General Counsel to
The Australian Red Cross Blood Service.
Dazychain: Please tell us about your role at the Australian Red Cross Blood Service.
Marion: I'm the General Counsel for the Australian Red Cross Blood Service. I see myself and our team as a service provider for the rest of the business. I'm also a risk management tool: we highlight legal risks in particular, as early as we can. I'm always thinking of novel ways to address those risks to make sure that the business can keep functioning effectively.
Dazychain: What are your key areas of responsibility?
Marion: We’re a national organization with three and a half thousand employees, providing a range of products to governments. We are also a manufacturer and that involves negotiating and entering into a lot of contracts. Contract management and negotiating contracts with governments is a big part of my role. Working with government and contracting with them is quite different to dealing with other providers. On one side, we're providing a service to government. On the other side we're the ones buying the services. One of our key responsibilities is looking at the contractual terms and making sure that they put the Blood Service in the best position possible. Like any corporate we also have to comply with a range of different laws.
We have a substantial compliance function. The legal team is responsible for the compliance framework and making that as accessible as possible for the subject matter experts. I'm also the Chief Privacy Officer. As you can imagine, privacy is a key issue for the Blood Service. Like a lot of businesses we deal with personal information, but we take it really seriously because the trust is at the core of who we are and that's what we need from the donors. They need to trust us with their blood and they tell us a lot of information about themselves. So we need to reward that trust by making sure that our privacy practices are best practice and that we always keep them front of mind. So that's a key responsibility.
Also, governance is a further responsibility that sits under everything that we do at all levels. I’ve worked with the Executive and the Board to make sure we have good practices in place for delegations, and in terms of culture and how it reflects our approach to legal compliance.
Dazychain: What are your priorities as the general counsel at the Blood Service?
Marion: My priorities are the business priorities. We have three strategic pillars. We want to be really efficient and effective. We want to grow the business and we want to build the business. In terms of the first pillar, legal has a key responsibility to ensure we have good practices in compliance and governance, with policies as well as legislation. If we can follow best practice, that frees up the rest of the business to actually get on with the important business of making blood products.
Building our current capacity is a further strategic pillar. We spin blood into its three component parts and one of those parts is plasma, demand for which is growing in Australia at 11% a year. There are 18 treatments that come from plasma, so that’s a key part of our business for the Australian community. The legal team has to make sure we have the contractual capacity to do that. So if they're doing something like a pilot for a plasma-only donor center, we make sure that we've got the government approvals and we comply with the regulations, which vary in every state.
Our third strategic pillar is growth. And that's where we're really focusing on innovation. Recently, we started a service offering donated human breast milk for pre-term babies. The legal team worked with state governments to negotiate contracts that the state governments could accept. This enabled us to do what we needed to do, including covering our risk appropriately. So whatever the businesses is doing, that's what we are doing.
Dazychain: What are your biggest challenges in your leadership role?
Marion: It's really in communicating the “why” around legal compliance to the business. People often think that legal is the department of “no”, or that we're a hurdle that you have to jump over to get on with your business. Our key challenge is working with the business so they understand that what we do is actually enabling them. We can get on with the business because we comply with the law and because we see problems coming, and we try to get in early to prevent them, or solve them. And a key to that is getting the business to understand why something happens because if they don't understand the rationale this probably won't be embedded in the culture.
There’s a real challenge trying to get people's attention, because there's 101 things to be done. And people think that legal is something you come to when you're in trouble rather than advice and decision support at the outset of a project to make sure things don't go wrong.
Dazychain: What is the size of your legal team?
Marion: There's myself and three full time lawyers. Two of the team used to work in the corporate area. One is an employment law specialist. I also have two people who aren't in the legal team but who work closely with us on data and privacy issues. So for a nationwide organization with three and a half thousand employees, 100 donor centers and around $500 million in funding from through our contracts every year, that's a modest sized team. But at the same time we're small but perfectly formed. We just really need to make sure that we've got the right know how in-house and we manage those resources appropriately.
Dazychain: What changes have you brought to your team to improve productivity and transparency?
Marion: It's an ongoing challenge. We’re focusing on trying to enable the business to move things through quickly. We don't want to be the log jam when something has to be reviewed by legal. We're developing a triage process at the moment along with a training program and a legal kit. We're developing a risk assessment tool the executives and teams can use to assess their legal risk at an early stage. This will help my team to focus our resources on the high risk, high value work rather than the low risk, low value work.
Dazychain: How do you report on your matters?
Marion: We’ve found we're changing that because we're using Dazychain. We used to report on matters completed. But that doesn't give you the colour and detail around the quality and the subject matter of the work. So it's really important for us to report on matters by divisions, strategic pillar alignment and the level of risk. We also report on timeliness, including the time frame and whether we met the deadline. And that's really hard to do if you're just keeping files and doing it on an Excel spreadsheet. I would say it's impossible.
Dazychain: What is the role of technology in legal operations leadership?
Marion: You don't want to spend too much time on manual record keeping. There's always risk for error there. I've hired people with amazing experience and amazing innovation potential and great ideas. I want them to use their brain power, focusing on actually solving legal problems rather than doing bookkeeping. It’s important to keep records and to close matters. We need to take a step back every now and again, to see where the work has been done, and to make sure that we're on track, but I don't want to spend any time doing it. So I see the role of technology is doing that for me.
Dazychain: What are the key reasons your team has decided to use technology to manage your work?
Marion: Speed and efficiency. We want to be free to spend more time doing the work where a human makes a big difference, where we can use brain power to actually solve a problem. Using technology, I can cut data differently. Everybody wants to see things a slightly different way. Some people want to look at strategic pillars. Some people want to see timeliness. Some people want to see how many divisions. Some people want to see risk. It’s very hard to reconfigure data manually. When I use the technology, it's nice and easy.
When I think back on when I first started as a lawyer, we marked up documents by hand, we wrote on them with different colored pens and that was how we showed who was putting different markups into the documents. It was so slow and many mistakes were made. It’s quite exciting to just see what can be done. I imagine the next stage will be artificial intelligence used to put basic documents together for us. We're not using that in the Blood Service yet, but I can see a time in the future when maybe we can use technology to solve some problems for us. And that would really free up our brains to focus on innovative and interesting legal questions we normally don't have time for.
When you start out at law school you think you're going to be considering problems and reading cases, mulling it over and taking your time with the drafting. But the business quickly needs a yes or no answer and there's a lot to be done. Those pressures mean that you end up providing a lighter touch when really, you would be better off spending more time with engagement, discussing the problems, being involved in the business and providing advice. The more we can get technology to free up time, the more we can actually be in the business because the whole role of being an in house counsel is that you're here because you want it to make a difference to the business. You want to get to know the business, understand it and actually contribute.
Dazychain: Can you tell us about your Dazychain journey so far.
Marion: We started last year after looking for a solution for quite a while. One of the things that worried us when we first started was that we're a small team and we're not a law firm and we don't operate like a firm. Some of the solutions offered to us were pricey, and they were also built around the traditional legal model, using a law firm’s approach. There was a lot of focus on billing and utilizing external counsel. What appealed to us about Dazychain was that it was bespoke to us. We figured out an approach for us with the Dazychain team, working through our matter types and reporting needs.
And so rather than being given pre-populated categories and having to squeeze our business into to them we were able to sit down with Dazychain and say, "Well these are the things that we do. How can you reflect that in the system?" And that's actually made it a lot easier for us. It is challenging going from one system to another and we've had a couple of little bumps along the way, but with giving dedicated time to it, it's going to really pay off in the end. We're starting to see the difference now. The difference for me is being able to bring up on one page to show my executive colleagues what's going on. I can also see my team and see if somebody is under a bit too much pressure because I can look at them individually.
That's been a really big improvement that's happened over a relatively short period of time. The big thing was I guess we had to do a bit of self-reflection first to figure out what we needed. But what was really good was being able to work with the Dazychain team to create a system that worked with us. Also the Dazychain team highlighted to us a few possible gaps that we didn't see, because they’d seen what other people had done and what worked and didn't work. We're still on the journey. I'm glad Dazychain has been really flexible with us, allowing us to tinker and change. Because we're not there yet and I can imagine that as the business changes we'll need to change it.
We have our three strategic pillars under the current strategic plan, but when we build a new strategic plan, there might be different pillars and also we might have divisions changing. So I can see we'll always be on the journey in some way or another.
One thing I notice is that Dazychain is working with the not for profit sector. We have a real challenge because the not for profit sector tends to have less funding than other areas. But what we do is vital. We're the provider of the nation's blood supply. We are saving lives. And there's a lot of other important organizations in the same sector, but they don't have big legal teams in terms of resourcing. A really strong corporate foundation is just as important for those non-profit businesses as it is for other businesses. So it's really great to see a lot of really good, strong voices coming into the not for profit sector and seeing more not for profits bringing people in house and working within the business along with the new law models coming in to assist as well.
As the technology is becoming cheaper and more accessible, I really see people are looking to embrace technology and be innovative in the non profit sector. The non profit space has to be innovative because every dollar that we spend in the legal team, we don't spend on other parts of the business. We have to fight for, and really show the return for any anything we spend. So if we can be innovative and I can reduce costs and show real bang for buck when we buy technology, we all win.
I look at technology almost as a little bit like a “life hack”. I want to use technology to make life and work easy. So we don't have to have to think about it, as much is done for us as possible so that we can then free ourselves up to concentrate on what we do but also have a work life balance, which is important as well.
Dazychain: Do you feel that giving strategic and commercial advice is a growing area for GCs?
Marion: Our internal clients are asking more and more from their lawyers. They're not just coming to lawyers and asking for a yes or no answer. They're actually wanting more. They're wanting a contribution to the business. It's part of the risk assessment. So we're looking to provide broader answers, not just the minimum legal opinion. This is the minimum that you can do. They're looking for us to work more broadly, thinking about risks, and what ultimate outcomes might be there for the business.
An issue might cause devastating reputational damage to you in the longer run when your goal is to maintain the brand, the business and the trust, with both the community and our partners. For example, in terms of the way we approach privacy, we had a data security incident a couple of years ago and right away, naturally the first question people ask us is, "Do we have to notify this to the Privacy Commissioner?" At the time the answer was technically no because the notification requirement hadn't come in yet, but that was just the beginning of the discussion. Luckily, we have a CEO who focuses a lot on our values and transparency. So we did decide to be very transparent, told the Privacy Commissioner and our donors right away and handled the issue that way. We were honest, up front and dealt with it in an open manner to reflect our corporate values and to maintain trust.
Supplier relationships are another example. In contract negotiations we’re not necessarily looking to get the most aggressive deal and to come in at the very end to drill down prices, although it is important to get value. We want our suppliers to have a good relationship with us, so we have their discretion, their best effort and their trust so that if things ever go wrong, we have a great relationship and we can work together to solve problems.
Dazychain: Can you expand a little bit more on what you think the future of the role of the GC might be in terms the involvement in the business?
Marion: Years ago it used to be that in house lawyers were seen as lawyers who weren't good enough to be partners. It’s such an old fashioned view and it was never true. It was probably partners in law firms that said that. It's a different skill and it's hard to make the transition from a law firm to in house. Two of my team actually sat with the people that they provide services to. We're part of the business. We're not separate, so we all share the information.
There's a much more practical approach with an in house lawyer because you know what's important to the business and you know there's no point insisting on an esoteric legal point because it's not going to get you anywhere.
So you can think about what's really important to the business and you can make a judgment on what you're willing to give away and what you're not. You don't have to win every point. The in house counsel can give a layer of judgment because they actually know the business and know what we can live with and what's acceptable.