21 July 2015

The Road to Becoming a Company Secretary

Published on 21 July 2015
There is no shortage of reasons to hire a law graduate for a job that isn't solely legally focussed. Among the new lawyers graduating from law school every year are some of our generation’s best, brightest and most hard-working prospective employees and it’s not just law firms that are sitting up and taking notice.

Over the past few years there has been an increasing trend towards organisations taking on company secretaries with legal backgrounds, in fact some organisations list it as essential criteria. To learn more, Insights spoke to College of Law’s own Company Secretary, Kathryn Laurie.

“My current role as Company Secretary of The College of Law Limited involves me managing all of the College's corporate governance responsibilities, I advise the College’s Board of Governors and management on matters of corporate governance and ensure the College is compliant with the Corporations Act, ASIC and ACNC.  Further I manage the logistics for Board and Committee Meetings and Annual General Meetings as well as the College's Compliance Program, Intellectual Property, Policy Manual and Contracts Register.”

For Kathryn — who was already a Company Secretary at Qantas for its subsidiary companies and had completed business degree — becoming a lawyer added significant value to the work she was doing.

“The General Counsel and Company Secretary of Qantas encouraged me to commence my law degree and was of the firm belief that holding a legal qualification would really add another dimension to my ability as a Company Secretary,” she said.

“He was certainly right. Company Secretaries have a range of qualifications from finance, accounting to law.”

For a brief period in her career, following the completion of her practical legal training and being admitted as a solicitor, in an interlude between Qantas and the College of Law, Kathryn took an unanticipated detour from corporate governance to practise criminal law.

“Had I contemplated becoming a criminal lawyer? No, not at all. But I just went with the opportunity, gave it everything and in return I gained invaluable experience and was presented with some amazing opportunities including instructing in a number of high profile criminal trials.  The exposure to our court system, legal practice and procedure just added a new dimension to my skill set.”

It is this exposure to multiple fields that Kathryn identifies as allowing her to complete such diverse tasks in a variety of areas as Company Secretary.

“One of the most positive aspects of my role as Company Secretary is the broad exposure to all aspects of the business and interaction with different stakeholders, which I believe gives me a broad organisational perspective that I think would be harder to gain if working in one specific area,” said Kathryn.

“Corporate Governance encompasses many areas and during my career has allowed me to be involved in a number of major corporate transactions.”

Kathryn adds, however, that the road to becoming the College’s Company Secretary was not without its challenges. Kathryn’s initial plan to complete her law degree on a part-time basis in 6 years became a 10 year plan after her decision to become a mother.

“Whilst I initially had the best intentions to return to my study 6 weeks after my daughter’s birth, in reality my focus and interest in study had dwindled ... however my focus and determination did return, just not as quickly as I had expected.”

As such, Kathryn’s advice for law students hoping to take on an alternative career or those coming from a non-legal career transitioning into law study as she did, is to brace for the ride as it won’t always be a smooth one.

“Firstly, hang in there. Take every opportunity even if the opportunity that arises is not expected or anticipated. Secondly, always keep an open mind, taking a chance can be rewarding.  Thirdly, the end is certainly worth the wait and worth the hard work.

“Now I feel I have the best of both worlds, practising in corporate governance but at the same time working for an organisation that is committed to legal education and supporting the careers of legal professionals.”