We asked Andressa Gudde, senior legal coordinator at Yara Brazil and the winner of the Employment Team of the Year award at the 2018 Global Counsel Awards, her opinion on what it takes to be a successful in-house counsel, the best way to advise senior leadership and what winning the award meant to her.
Describe your current role (responsibilities, size of team, structure).
I lead the labour and litigation area at Yara Brazil and am responsible for managing the labour, civil (eg, environmental and intellectual property fall within our team’s scope) and judicial credit recovery matters. We work in a preventive manner – acting as consultants, delivering training courses, diagnosing liabilities, creating action plans and following up on metrics – and managing third-party law firms which are our partners. In addition, I act as data privacy regional leader by attending the EU General Data Privacy Regulation. I lead a team of nine people, also including the labour area of Galvani, which is part of the Yara Brazil Group.
What led you to a career in-house?
At the beginning of my career, I worked at business law firms and I soon realised that the possibility to work on prevention was pretty limited. Even if a law firm has a closer relationship with its client, it has less opportunity to get to know the business and its nuances deeply. This realisation made me seek out a corporate career, where I have had the chance to carry out more preventive and customised work for my internal clients’ needs.
In your current role, what is the most challenging situation that you have faced? What are the most significant challenges that in-house lawyers are likely to face over the next few years?
In 2013 I presented a business case to the company leaders for working in a more preventive way with our contractors and third-party management, by hiring consultants who would check whether they were complying with their labour obligations. In 2014 this proposal was approvedand a project plan put in place, and in 2015 I assumed leadership of the project, using the PMI methodology. The project was implemented in 2016 and involved several learning opportunities for us, such as understanding the best timing to propose, letting it grow and executing an action plan (eg, engaging stakeholders and influencing sponsors), as well as having the courage to work proactively, something which is not normal practice in Brazilian corporate law departments, which usually work in a reactive manner.
For me, artificial intelligence is the main challenge in corporate law – working out its proper use and extracting what technology can offer on the one hand, and understanding that this technology will demand a more creative, multidisciplinary and proactive attitude from attorneys on the other.
Are there particular types of legal issues that you routinely refer to outside counsel? And what kind of matters do you tend to handle in-house?
We believe that court actions should be managed by large law firms which act for clients (and thus have different perspectives on process), and external counsel should also handle specialist matters, which require knowledge not available in my team. Making this kind of choice allows us to focus on our prevention strategy, giving us time to plan and execute new projects, carry out training and to be closer to clients, visiting our units around the country (more than 33!) and searching for innovative legal solutions. In addition, we prefer to handle our relationships with public authorities – not only because of compliance issues, but also because we have realised that we gain more respect from them when this work is kept in-house.
What do you consider to be the essential qualities for a successful in-house lawyer?
Proactivity, availability, curiosity and an open mind.
What’s important for in-house counsel to consider when advising senior leadership?
When meeting with senior leaders I advise my team to be objective and clear on the risk involved in each situation and to pay attention to the unspoken – sometimes the problem for a client is not actually what they think it is, but rather something else that has not yet been mapped yet. It requires curiosity over the client’s problem and asking the right questions at the right time.
How does the legal department contribute to your company’s growth?
We challenge ourselves to always look for a better answer than “no” or “it’s too risky” – which it’s easy to say as an in-house lawyer. But if we’re open to taking risks with a client, looking for disruptive solutions based not only on the legal perspective but also in other areas and business experiences, we contribute to the company’s growth. It’s like encouraging a child to be anything they want to be while showing them the best away to accomplish their goals and dreams.
With regard to your industry, are there any significant developments worth highlighting?
Agribusiness has a big challenge: to feed a growing population in a planet with limited resources. New technologies must be developed and some ethical discussions may take place over the next few years – the in-house lawyer will be asked to give answers to difficult and unexpected questions.
If not a lawyer, what would you be?
Before law school I intended to be a journalist, but nowadays I think I would have more fun working as an interior designer.
What did winning a Global Counsel Award mean to you?
The recognition of years of hard work, deep investment in my professional qualification/studies and a certainty of being on the right path.
The purpose of the Global Counsel Awards is to identify those in-house counsel, both teams and individuals that excel in their specific roles. The primary aim is to reward lawyers for demonstrable achievements across the full spectrum of in-house responsibility, not simply those who have acted on high-profile transactions.