We speak to the general counsel at Orpic about her career, the development of the industry and her outlook.
By Tim Gilkison, In-House Community
Asian-mena Counsel: Tell us a little about your professional background and how you came to your current role with Orpic?
Elina Mohamed: I graduated from Leeds University and did my Bar in London (admitted to the Lincoln’s Inn). I immediately started practice with a law firm in Malaysia, Shearn Delamore, and joined MMC as its group legal adviser and company secretary after seven years of practice. MMC is an investment holding company with core businesses in ports and logistics, energy and utilities, and engineering and construction. MMC gave me great experience — more than 16 years — in understanding all the various sectors. Given their investments abroad, especially in the Mena region, I was also exposed to legal issues abroad. However, a door was opened in Oman and I thought “why not?” since I was always keen to work abroad, especially now my children are grown up. Orpic’s offer came at the right time.
AMC: What do you think are the biggest challenges facing in-house lawyers in the region today?
EM: There is a lot of demand for speed and just getting things done. As an in-house counsel, it is important that documents are read properly and fully and allegations or claims, fully substantiated. Further, if you are reviewing technical documents or issues, it is important that the in-house counsel understands the business and takes the pain to understand the issues beyond legal to give a more comprehensive and commercial legal perspective of the matter.
AMC: What have been your own biggest challenges?
EM: The mounting legal issues and complexity of each case, which require a quick turnaround.
AMC: How is technology changing the way you work?
EM: Communication happens instantly. Gone are the days of faxes, letters or telex. This makes work challenging as you can receive emails from anyone, from everywhere and at any time. On the other hand, technology has also made us more efficient and effective. There are so many service providers in place that provide legal resources and templates for documentation. Reminders and key dates can be automated and meetings do not need to be physical.
AMC: What do you most look for in a law firm when outsourcing work?
EM: Quality, promptness and sincere advice. It is important that we receive frank advice from lawyers albeit whether we can win a case, whether the claim has merits or even whether they are available and capable of doing the proposed tasks. It has to be treated like a partnership rather than client-customer relationship.
Other than law firms, what sort of other service providers and tools help you most as a legal department?
EM: Tracking system on outstanding work, shared folders on templates and agreements, as well as virtual resource centres.
AMC: What aspects of your job do you most enjoy?
EM: I love the fact that I get to learn different things, which are not legal per se, and the marvellous people you meet with vast knowledge in their respective areas to give you a different perspective of things.
AMC: Looking forward, what changes do you foresee in the way that legal services will be provided in coming few years?
EM: Legal services would need to advise beyond the legal scope and have to appreciate the non-legal aspects of the transaction. To survive, legal services are also expected to go beyond the standard advice and drafting as that can be obtained through the internet or via a legal tool or system.
AMC: What advice would you give to young lawyers starting out in their careers today?
EM: Read, read and read. Widen your horizon, understand the law and the industry and non-legal issues. Work hard but smart. Communicate well, build relationships with stakeholders; both internal and external. Have the humility to learn and stand corrected. Be prepared to receive feedback from others, even those more junior than you. You have to love what you do to do well.
AMC: What is your hinterland (ie, what do you most like to do when away from work)?
EM: I love swimming, meeting people, drawing and travelling. I am hoping to give more to society through teaching, public speaking or mentoring. Hopefully that can happen soon.
Elina Mohamed will be a guest panelist at this year’s In-House Congress Middle East, Dubai, on February 27.