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On the job as a Partner in the Legal team at PwC Australia
Karen Evans-Cullen studied Masters of Law at Georgetown University and is now a Partner in the Legal team at PwC Australia.
What is your role?
I am a Partner in the Legal team at PwC Australia.
Where did you study?
I studied a Bachelor of Laws at the University of Western Australia (graduating in 1994 with first class honours) and a Masters of Law at Georgetown University (graduating in 1997 with distinction).
What did you do after graduating?
When I graduated, I worked as an articled clerk (graduate) at Clayton Utz in Perth for 2.5 years. I then went to Georgetown University for a year as a Fulbright scholar and completed my Masters of Law. When I finished that, I spent 3 months travelling in Europe before returning to Australia and moving to Sydney. In Sydney, I worked as a mergers and acquisitions lawyer with Clayton Utz, and was promoted to senior associate in 1998 and to partner in 2002.
How did you come to have your current role?
I was approached to join PwC and its growing legal business in mid 2016. After much soul-searching on my part and a rigorous interview process on both sides, I was offered partnership with PwC in November 2016 and resigned from Clayton Utz. It was a very hard decision for me after 23 years with Clayton Utz. However, I was attracted by the opportunity to help grow the legal business and the chance to practice law in a very different environment that would allow me to build deeper relationships with clients and provide me with the ability to offer them a different value proposition. So, after 3 months of gardening leave, I started at PwC in February 2017.
Are there any career achievements that you’re particularly proud of?
In 2014, I was appointed by the Federal Treasurer to the Australian government’s Takeovers Panel. This is a peer review body which is responsible for regulating control transactions (such as takeovers) of Australian entities and is the primary forum for resolving takeover disputes. There are about 40 members on the Panel, a mixture of lawyers, bankers and company directors. Being on the Panel has offered me significant insights into the operation of the Panel and views of the Panel members, all of which is very relevant when I am advising a client on a Takeovers Panel proceeding.
What does your employer do?
PwC Legal provides legal advice to clients in relation to the operation of their business and in particular, transactions that they are entering into. My main focus is advice on merger and acquisition transactions as well as corporate governance issues.
Can you describe a typical day?
My day to day activities constantly change depending on what I am working on.
If I am advising a client on a public company takeover and we have a deadline coming up, such as the announcement to the market of the transaction, I will be speaking with the client and its financial and media advisers many times a day in relation to the chosen strategy and its legal implications. My team will be drafting and reviewing the documents which will be released with the announcement and we will spend a lot of time analyzing the precise language used for the key terms and conditions to make sure it achieves our client’s objectives. I will attend board meetings for the client to provide legal sign off on the documents and the process. I will speak to regulators (eg. ASIC and ASX) about any issues with the proposed transaction so that we can identify and apply for any relief or approvals that might be required.
When not in the throes of a transaction with a looming deadline, my day will be split between working on current matters (be it transactions or general advice work), client relationship and development activities (such as client meetings, preparing seminars and collaborating with others at PwC to see how we can better service our clients) and coaching staff.
Could somebody with a different academic or professional background do your job?
No - as we are giving legal advice, we need to have a practicing certificate issued by the Law Society, which generally requires you to have a law degree and complete some form of practical training. We do however have people in our team who have law degrees from different countries and work experience in different countries, and who have had to learn and adapt to the Australian legal system and our laws and regulations. We also have lawyers who have had experience working for regulators, in other law firms and for clients in in house legal roles.
Which attributes lead to success in your role?
Lawyers need to have good attention to detail and a strong technical understanding of the areas of law in which they practice. Lawyers also need to be able to make judgment calls about risks that face a client in any particular circumstance. Our job is to identify and worry about the 1% risk (sometimes more) that things will go wrong and make sure that we’ve properly structured the transaction to deal with that risk in accordance with our client’s objectives. However, we also need to be commercially-minded in our approach to these risks, as not all risks can or should be avoided completely. We need to be able to advise on reasonable steps which can mitigate risks while still achieving the client’s commercial objectives.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
There are several things I love about my job that keep me enthused and engaged after more than 20 years. The first is being involved in company-transforming transactions that make a difference to our clients and the relevant industries or markets and that everyone talks about. The second is the broad range of clients that I work for – I have worked for clients across most industries and am always learning something new which keeps things interesting. The third is the fact that we work as a team to achieve our client’s objectives. This is rewarding as I get to work with a group of people whom you form close bonds with, who all bring different backgrounds and perspectives to the table, and who keep challenging me to see things from a different perspective, all of which means that I am continually learning and enhancing my skills and experience, even after 20 years in the job.
What are the limitations of your job?
My job does involve a lot of responsibility. As partners, we have high billing targets to achieve, as a well as a range of other non-financial targets. We are responsible for generating our own work flow and responsible for the lawyers in our team, for their career development and their well-being at work.
I do sometimes have to work on weekends, usually because I am working on a transaction and there is a looming deadline. Speed of execution is very important in conducting M&A deals, and this can put a lot of pressure on the team working on the deal to work very hard (over long hours and weekends) to ensure that the transaction is executed and our client achieves their objectives. However, it is usually the case that after a particular busy or intense period on a transaction, there will be some downtime which allows you to pay attention to those parts of your life which may have been neglected while you’ve been busy.
The biggest limitation in my job is having little control over when the busy periods will occur. Sometimes it happens with very little notice. Over the years, I have learned to be flexible and my family and friends have become understanding of the unpredictability of my work. You learn to juggle, re-prioritise, apologise and make amends as soon as you can!
Which three pieces of advice would you give to a university student?
- Keep an open mind: don’t pre-judge how you think your career or life might play out. Have goals and ambitions, but don’t let them stop you from being open to new experiences and opportunities which you neither expected nor went looking for, but which might actually prove to be truly valuable.
- Make the most of every experience you get: don’t be a passenger, when you decide to spend time on something, give it your best effort.
- Build networks – of friends, work colleagues, clients and family. They will sustain you, support you, inspire you and help make your life successful.