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Legal, business, and women's empowerment with Marija Dukadinovska

There's no getting away from the fact that 2021 was an exhausting year. It certainly wasn't the sigh of relief we'd hoped for after 2020, rather it was 2020 2.0 with the addition of market volatility, vaccine mandates (causing HR headaches), supply chain havoc, and people enduring more lockdowns.

Our InView Community shared their ups, downs, hacks, mishaps and proud moments for the year. Marija Dukadinovska, Legal Counsel at Kookai, reflects on what the last 12 months was like for her.

Dukadinovska is based in Melbourne, Australia, the city that experienced the world's longest lockdown, 262 days. The impact of being locked down for the equivalent of nine months was profound for Dukadinovska and her team. "It was hard to separate your personal life from your professional life because the pandemic affected everybody on a personal level, which then impacted how you showed up to work each day."

In Dukadinovska's experience, when working from home every day "your personal and professional lives mesh together, which makes it hard to show up as your best self every single day when those lines are being blurred".

Accepting this reality and creating safe spaces for vulnerable conversations about wellbeing helped Dukadinovska and her team get through 2021. She believes that openness around mental health in the legal profession is important, and says the pandemic has facilitated more acceptance of the topic. "Because we are all in the same situation, it's easier to have a conversation and say 'I'm struggling' because your manager or anyone you're talking to is probably feeling the same thing too."

Dukadinovska had been at Kookai only one month when lockdown commenced, so getting her grip on the demands and quirks of a new role in lockdown was challenging. She found it hard getting to know people outside of the legal team, not to mention understanding the ins and outs of their roles. It is crucial for an in-house lawyer to be able to work with the right stakeholders in the business.

Returning to the office was essential as far as Dukadinovska was concerned. "When you're new, you need to be in the office environment so that you're surrounded by people from different departments, and you just naturally catch on to what people are working on or talking about," she says.  

Whilst working from home allowed her to focus on getting things done, after months of remote work she craved relationship building and social interaction with her workmates.

Dukadinovska attributes her team's ability to stay connected in a disconnected world to her General Counsel who ensured weekly team and individual catchups. Group check-ins were light-hearted and fun and included team members sharing weekly wins and any new lockdown hobbies or skills they'd taken up. "Having those touchpoints was really important for keeping us connected," says Dukadinovska.

Harnessing technology for efficiency was also a big part of 2021 with Dukadinovska and her team deciding to ditch manual processes for legal tech, which allowed them to collaborate better with their various departments.

Looking to this year, Dukadinovska is excited to become further embedded in the business. Kookai is family run, and its legal team is involved in every stage of the fashion lifecycle. From registering designs, copyright to retail, employment, and consumer law, being in-house counsel at Kookai provides a diverse range of work opportunities.

The team itself is looking to upskill other business departments, empowering them to use and request legal documents and templates through a project management technology to streamline legal back and forth. By providing resources to other departments and giving them control, the legal team hopes to focus on pure high-level legal matters. Privacy cyber security is another focus for the legal team in 2022, especially with an uptake in remote work.

On a personal note, Dukadinovska aims to become as proficient as possible in legal ops and put in place a legal management system that develops the department. "That way we can make things more efficient for the business as a whole, and make everyone's life easier," she says. Focusing on the transition to the senior lawyer phase of her career is also on the cards.

Dukadinovska's proudest moment of 2021 was finding a role that she is passionate about. Kookai combines her passion for legal, business and women's empowerment (Kookai is a majority-female company). "I get to work with amazing women who are really good at what they do, which makes me feel incredibly inspired and motivated to be part of that environment".

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