As the winner of the ‘Compliance Innovator of the Year’ at the 2016 Global Counsel Awards, we asked Melinda Friend, chief regulatory counsel at Colgate-Palmolive, her opinion on what it takes to be 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 am chief regulatory counsel with responsibility to support product and ingredient-based regulatory issues globally.  I have two direct reports: one based in New Jersey, covering North America; and one based in Paris, covering Europe.  We work closely with a variety of other legal specialists, especially legal marketing, early innovation, commercial and compliance specialists, as well as supporting the generalist lawyers covering specific regions.

What led you to a career in-house?

We moved from Washington DC to Geneva, Switzerland on a diplomatic posting with my husband’s work.  I had been in private practice in DC, but took a job in-house with a multinational pharma company when I arrived in Switzerland.

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?

One of the most significant challenges in-house is creating a network that funnels appropriate issues without flooding one with too much information.  Prioritisation is linked to this, as without timely and appropriate information, one can’t prioritise and identify those strategic, overarching issues that would most benefit from support from a legal specialist.  I think this will only get more difficult as more countries adopt new and more stringent regulatory and enforcement practices.

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?

In general, we rely on outside counsel for litigation or heavy procedural issues, or when there is a high risk to our interests and the area of law is not clear.  We tend to keep issues with which we have had a lot of experience and for which we likely have more expertise than outside counsel in-house.

What do you consider to be the essential qualities for a successful in-house lawyer?

A passion for issue spotting and networking; a commercial, practical focus and communication style; a positive and inclusive attitude.

What’s important for in-house counsel to consider when advising senior leadership?

Keeping it simple, direct and business focused.

How does the legal department contribute to your company’s growth?

By preventing problems that may have arisen generally through activities that could inadvertently lead to an issue with specific authorities.  This builds a sense of trust and confidence in our business partners that they can pursue their goals with confidence, having identified and addressed any legal risks or grey areas.

With regard to your industry, are there any significant developments worth highlighting?

I see an increasing issue with the ‘post-factual’ era, where regulatory policy and enforcement are increasingly less driven by evidence and facts. Pressure from public opinion has the opportunity to change the world for the better, but can do so only if it identifies, prioritises and addresses the real risks.

If not a lawyer, what would you be?

A policy maker, perhaps working in the healthcare or environmental field.

What did winning a Global Counsel Award mean to you? 

It was a great honour and I was very pleased to be recognised in a field where external recognition is often limited to one’s company and relatively small peer group.

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. To make a nomination for the 2017 awards please click here.  

For further information on the awards, please visit