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Behind the veil of in-house legal with InView Champion Stephen Drysdale

We take you behind the veil of legal with a series of interviews discussing all things in-house with several of our InView Champions. 

Stephen Drysdale, in-house Counsel at ZURU, on how in-house legal teams can help their business operate at full capacity. He talks about dreams of legal clairvoyance, the life cycle of legal problems, and myths around legal roadblocks. 


How can in-house legal help the wider business on a day-to-day basis? 

This is a gross oversimplification, but I often find that whatever task I am carrying out can be categorized as one of the following: (1) Forecasting problems; (2) Preventing problems; (3) Mitigating problems; (4) Solving problems. In-house legal is the Panadol for corporates. We try to take the pain away so the rest of the business can operate at 100 percent.

What are the key functions of legal as a resource to the organization that everyone should know? 

We exist to facilitate transactions efficiently and securely. We want to get deals done just as seamlessly and pain-free as you do. However, we can only do that successfully if business teams welcome us with open arms. I often find it quite the paradox in that business teams sometimes have this misplaced concern that by bringing a potential transaction to legal, it’s going to get roadblocked. - In reality, the earlier a transaction is placed on our radar, the more seamless that transaction will move through the pipeline. Instead, that transaction ends up being plagued by issues that in-house legal are then required to resolve. Issues that wouldn’t have existed had a business team been more transparent from the get-go. It’s a constant education piece and I think it stems from that entrenched stereotype of lawyers unnecessarily overcomplicating matters – which we know is often never the case.

What areas of law do you most play in? Contract, employment, dispute resolution etc? 

I work across a multitude of areas, including corporate affairs, commercial transactions, intellectual property, regulatory compliance and much more. It’s not uncommon for me to be spearheading contractual negotiations with a large licensing partner like Nickelodeon in the morning for ZURU Toys, and then overseeing an acquisition by ZURU Edge in the afternoon. I’ve also been extremely fortunate to head up the regulatory compliance for our latest corporate venture, ZURU Health, utilizing our extensive supply chain expertise to bring high-quality PPE and other medical supplies into New Zealand hospitals and beyond.

I joined ZURU not long after my 22nd birthday, fresh off the boat as a graduate. Within months I was going head-to-head with powerhouses like Nickelodeon, Disney, KraftHeinz, and others in licensing negotiations. Within a year, I was overseeing the regulatory compliance of an entirely new business division that supplied over 50 million pieces of PPE (isolation gowns, face masks, face shields, examination gloves, hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, etc) within a three-month window, crucially assisting in the protection of front-line workers during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. To date, ZURU has supplied over 100 million pieces of PPE to the New Zealand Ministry of Health. Fast-forward to today, I now manage five direct reports, 50+ licenses, 250+ patents and much more across multiple subsidiaries and markets. I have no regrets about going straight into an in-house role, the experiences I’ve had I simply wouldn’t find anywhere else.

In-house legal are known to 'put out fires before they begin'. How does an in-house team mitigate and foresee risk before it arises?

As much as I - and I imagine most other in-house lawyers - long for the gift of clairvoyance or a crystal ball that we could use to gaze into the future and solve problems before they became just that, we can only hope to settle for the next best thing and learn to predict patterns and probabilities within the various business units of our clients. A legal department that is siloed from the wider business will never get to learn the common pitfalls, traps and gaps in their companies. Paying attention to the vulnerabilities of your client and having a clear understanding of how risk varies from department to department allows in-house legal to focus its attention on those areas and build structures to mitigate them. This is a luxury we have over our external counterparts, who instead must try solving problems through the looking glass. 


Stephen provides food for thought, particularly around the education required to change how the business views and approaches the legal team, and the distillation of risk mitigation into forecasting, preventing, mitigating and solving problems. 

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