Tell us a little about your professional background and how you came to be in your current role?

I started my career as a lawyer specializing in capital markets, banking and corporate. After 5 years in private practice, I moved in-house, starting in a local pharma company, followed by P&G and Heinz, before joining Unilever Indonesia 6 years ago as the senior legal person. My experience in Unilever includes partnering for the Home Care business in SEAA for about 3 years, before taking on a new responsibility in 2020 as the corporate secretary (Unilever Indonesia is a major publicly listed company in Indonesia). I’m currently the General Counsel and Corporate Secretary for Unilever Indonesia.

How big is your team and how is it structured?

Unilever Indonesia is a USD 2.5 billion company. There are 5 senior lawyers that directly report to me and 1 junior lawyer, with agile working principles, supporting the senior lawyers. We also have 1 senior compliance person leading the business integrity agenda. Our legal team may be lean compared to other companies of the same size. The idea for this structure is for the in-house counsel to take more strategic roles, so as to create more value for our business partners.

What are the biggest challenges facing in-house lawyers today?

The biggest challenge is to integrate more into the business, becoming a risk artisan while still working within the boundaries.

This is a real challenge because, as lawyers, we are used to precedents which have trained us to be prepared for the worst-case scenario of certain issues.

We also often separate ourselves into “WE” – the lawyers – and “YOU” – the business team – this has to be changed. The growth of the company is everyone’s responsibility, including the legal team’s. When providing advice, we need to start thinking from a business perspective, using a lawyers’ strengths in critical and analytical thinking.

This is where I think technology can help lawyers to mine and analyze the data, including business information, so lawyers can be more active business partners and not just people who are turned to after a problem has already arisen.

Did you have a mentor early in your career? Is mentorship important?

Yes, I have. My mentor has been very important in providing psychological support and guidance in my career, especially in the early stages. Even though my mentor is no longer with the company, the relationship still continues. I still seek his wisdom and advice.

I have other mentors also, and they are not just those with a legal background, but those from business and finance also, which helps me to get a better understanding of the businesses expectations of the legal department.

One of the most important things that I learned from my mentor in my early career was to be confident to initiate discussions about my career aspirations. Being a junior person in an organization doesn’t mean you should rely on others to take your career to the next level. I’m responsible for my own career and where I want to take it.

More recently, my mentor has helped me with my soft skills, like storytelling to senior people in management and navigating the dynamics in workplace relationships.

How is technology changing the way you work?

First of all, technology helps us especially by taking over repetitive legal work so the team can be more focused on strategic and added value work. This is a massive change because it helps to free up our time and is good for the team’s well-being as well.

Technology also helps us in making faster and more data-driven decisions. It helps lawyers to make decisions by balancing the art (like legal knowledge, intuition, people acumen, and business acumen) and science (like risk quantification and data analysis).

On a personal level, technology helps me in giving me back my personal time. For example, instead of being stuck in traffic for meetings (if you have been to Jakarta, you know what the traffic is like), I can join them from home via video conference or other tools. But with the benefit that it brings, self-discipline is also necessary otherwise you end up with too many meetings which can burn you out.

What do you most look for in a law firm when outsourcing work?

The experience of the lawyer is the first criteria for the shortlisted, but mostly external lawyers must bring their expertise to add to the expertise of our own team.

I look for lawyers that have a good understanding of the FMCG industry, offer prompt support and practical solutions, and are also cost sensitive. As part of the business, we need to be accountable to the investment that we make and need to make strategic choices in our investment. It is important for our external counsel to understand this perspective.

Other than law firms, what other services and tools help your legal department the most?

Contract management tools are the service that we currently use and we continue to look for other services with the objectives:

  1. to take over non-strategic work
  2. to help in-house counsel in making faster and data driven decisions

What aspects of your in-house role do you most enjoy?

I really enjoy the opportunity to be able to wear my legal hat and combine it with a business mindset, so I can assist the company with important business decisions and strategic planning.

Developing the team is another area that I enjoy greatly. To have my team members being regarded as “not just a lawyer”, but as a business partner, is the best part of my job.

What changes do you foresee in how legal services will be provided in the coming few years?

I think technology will play an important role. Nowadays, electronic meetings/video conferences are a common tool, and I cannot imagine what AI can do in the next few years. The pandemic has also pushed lawyers to be more tech savvy. I think the legal service will have to embrace this change without compromising on quality. In my view, there will be two different types of services:

  1. services for more strategic advice for important projects
  2. services with two goals, as I mentioned before, to take over non-strategic work and to help in-house counsel in making faster and more data driven decisions

What advice would you give to young lawyers starting out in their careers today?

I sum it up into two things: always be curious and stay humble.

What we learn from legal theory in school may have different implementations. Keep an open mind and embrace new challenges. Just because things seem to be difficult, it doesn’t mean they can’t be solved and never take an easy route sacrificing your integrity. As a junior lawyer there could be pressure to take a short cut, but integrity will always be an important value for a lawyer.

Humility is also important. Never think you are better than others just because you have reached a certain milestone in your career. I have met a person with a non-legal background who has more knowledge in a particular legal topic than me. Everyone has their own strength, and you can always learn something from someone else. Humility helps you to stay curious.

What is your hinterland (what do you most like to do away from work)?

With the kids having to do online school, I’m elevating my cooking hobby to a new level by experimenting with more recipes and doing it with them. The pandemic also provided me the opportunity to rethink my habits. I have never been a sporty person, but I have started practicing yoga, jogging, and learning to play golf. I have lost around 10 kgs since the start of pandemic and my BMI is getting better. It’s a journey with ups and downs that I’m currently enjoying.

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