Gemma O’Meara is the Legal Counsel at not-for-profit membership organisation, Australian Institute of Company Directors.
1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?
I am an Irish qualified lawyer who came to Sydney on a working holiday in my late 20s post the GFC.
I quickly fell in love with the city and decided to get admitted as a solicitor in NSW. I sat the Legal Practice Admission Board exams and the College of Law and was admitted to the Supreme Court of NSW in 2015.
I followed a well-worn route into private practice and worked at a global law firm however I knew this wasn’t quite the right fit and I always had an inkling that inhouse was where I needed to be. I enjoyed working alongside my clients and the commercial aspect and the multiple hats of inhouse greatly appealed to me.
The Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD) first came to my attention when a friend sat the Company Directors Course and corporate governance was also emerging as a key interest area in my work.
I have now been with the AICD for almost 4 years and have been fortunate to work alongside some talented people both within the legal team and the wider business. I have found mentors and sponsors in current and past colleagues. I would highlight the importance of sponsorship for women – generally women are overly mentored and under sponsored in the workplace.
One of my passions in working in-house and which has significantly contributed to creating a good work life balance, is the ability to focus on embracing innovation and digitisation.
This allows us to ensure that we are servicing the business with their legal needs in an efficient way by streamlining and providing tools for routine tasks to empower self-service of churn work, so the legal team can focus on adding maximum value to the business.
Together with legal project management, this frees lawyers to have more control over how to manage our day and to do engaging interesting work. Importantly, the technology generates data and metrics which allows the business visibility of what the legal team does.
I do not agree that technology will make lawyers obsolete, however we do have to examine how we work in the spirit of continuous improvement.
2) What does a day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?
I am going to include a caveat here that this is an aspirational day, my plans and routine can very quickly get turned on their head, however the more consistent I am with my routine, the more rigour it holds.
6:30am Get up and do a coastal walk with a friend or take Loki, my staffy for a run around to a local doggy park. Grab a takeaway coffee. I try to keep my phone on airplane mode until I am at my desk.
8:00am Get home and meditate for 20 minutes before setting up for work. Every day, I tidy and clean my workspace. This means clearing all visible clutter and can include fresh flowers. I burn incense or use a diffuser in the background as I work. As bougie as it sounds, I enjoy an aesthetic environment, for me is important in a space where you spend much of your day.
8:30am: Review my calendar to see what meetings are scheduled for the day and consider any prep work required. Check emails and respond to the quick questions.
9am: Review law firms and other circular emails and LinkedIn for news and legal updates.
9:30am: Prepare my daily list in order of priority. Check the legal portal to see if there are any new matters and understand my capacity and diary.
Update my individual and team project management boards. Where necessary, I block out some time on my calendar throughout the day to get some contract review or drafting completed. I manage this as flexibly with clients’ needs throughout the day.
10am-10:30am: Attend a legal team meeting WIP to discuss matters and priorities.
10:30am-12:30pm: Review a large agreement for a client, Zoom the client to clarify some questions before sending the marked-up contract.
12:30pm-1:30pm: Lunch. Subject to workload and weather, take Loki for a walk down the beach, make lunch or grab something out. Once a week, I will catch up with a friend for lunch locally or if we are in the city.
1:30pm-2pm: Phone call with a client on a new campaign. Take instruction and brief external IP counsel.
2pm-3pm: Weekly Legal Team “Skull Session” where we discuss current affairs, emerging legal issues, brainstorming innovation ideas, project management and training for the business ideas.
3pm-4pm: Deliver an interactive training session on contract fundamentals and process to the sales team and key stakeholders over Zoom.
4pm-6pm: A new data project has started gaining momentum – I review some documents that have been provided as part of the business opportunity pack and set up a call with the internal strategy team to discuss next steps.
6pm-7pm: I endeavour to have a hard stop at 6pm which saves time zone issues or urgent/crisis matters I adhere to. If I am online after this time, I encourage my friends and family to make fun of me for breaking my own rules.
7pm: Most evenings I will get to a late Yin yoga class which really helps me wind down for sleep.
9pm: I still need to break up with my phone. I have a bad habit of getting on socials in the evening which I am working towards stopping. I don’t keep a charger in the bedroom in an effort to keep my phone out of the bedroom at night which doesn’t always work but I am getting there. I am eager to introduce a no screen time policy from 9:30pm however this is a work in progress.
3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?
Yes, our Sydney office is open – currently, I work from home (WFH) four days a week and I am in the office one day a week.
WFH has been a game changer, I know I am not alone in this but looking back, I wonder how we fit it all in, the pre-work gym, the commute, the city chaos, the coffees, lunches, drinks, and the late hours in the office.
4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?
Grappling with the seriousness of law, we can confuse seriousness and importance. Getting caught up in the work that you’re doing is very easy and it is crucial for me to step away and have a practice of doing so without the guilt of being away from my desk.
I live by the beach and with WFH, I consciously take time each day to connect with nature, be physically active and enjoy slower life while balancing my work commitments.
No two days of work for me are the same, I embrace Dr Joe. Dispenza’s ethos of challenging ourselves out of our comfort zone and we must consciously choose to disrupt the momentum in the feedback loop of the same thoughts, feelings, and actions.
Warning: when feelings become the means of thinking, or if we cannot think greater than how we feel, we can never change. To change is to think greater than how we feel. To change is to act greater than the familiar feelings of the memorized self.– Dr. Joe Dispenza
However, I also believe in the power of habit and have activities I complete ritualistically every day at the same time in the same way. Our most productive pace is always our consistent one. My life is a balance of this, challenge, and habit.
5) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?
- Legally Innovative (Anna Lozynski, Executive General Counsel at L’oreal)
- Bam Legal (Catherine Bamford, Legal Engineer)
- TheInhouseLawyer – (Mel Scott, Senior Legal Counsel Megaport)
- The Sweet Spot: How to Accomplish More by Doing Less by Christine Carter Phd
- The 5 Second Rule by Mel Robbins
- Atomic Habits by James Clear
- Dare to Lead by Brene Brown
- The Second Mountain by David Brooks
- Lost Connections by Johann Hari
- Irresistible by Adam Alter
Additionally, the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) has also been an important support and resource to my development as a legal counsel. The networking and learning opportunities with peers are something I really lean into.
Last year, I sat the ACC In-House Counsel Certification Course which provided great legal education resources but also in the absence of face to face networking events also afforded an opportunity to connect with fellow inhouse lawyers and gain visibility of how others were surviving and thriving during COVID times.
This year I am also taking part in the ACC Future Leaders Mentoring Program which I am very excited about.
6) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?
I am an Audible fiend, though the clear winner this year is Zoom. I also rely heavily on Trello and Microsoft Teams for project management.
7) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?
Nick Abrahams – Global Head of Tech & Innovation at Norton Rose Fulbright
Erik P.M. Vermeulen – Professor of Business and Financial Law and the Director of the International Business Law program at Tilburg University in The Netherlands
8) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life, or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?
We need to question the perception that those who are busy are important and powerful and that those who take time for leisure are lazy idlers.
Life is about balance, I appreciate a challenge to the status quo and prioritising non work commitments takes courage however COVID has given us an opportunity to shine some light on this issue, re-evaluate our priorities, how we work and strive to make technology create time for us.
All said, in work above all what is important to me to work in a happy positive, collegiate environment. Culture will eat strategy for breakfast. Work life balance creates positive culture – it is a no brainer. The by-product of positive culture is productivity.
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