Five minutes with…one of Australia’s energy industry in-house big-hitters

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Chris Ryan is Associate General Counsel at Shell Australia. He’s spent the last 18 years on the client side of the legal profession, working his way up through the ranks of the energy and petrochemicals behemoth. Before that he was in private practice with Blakes. He talks to Australasian Lawyer

In your opinion, what are the advantages of working in-house over working in private practice? Autonomy, the close connection with the business and variety.

In what areas of Shell’s business do you most commonly engage external lawyers for?
Usually it’s real-estate work, industrial relations issues and litigation.

When engaging external lawyers, what factors make you decide to choose one firm over another?
We choose lawyers at firms on our panel whose depth of knowledge in a particular field allows them give guidance, not just advice, which helps us quickly make a risk-based judgement on what to do.

What is the one thing law firms could do to improve the services and advisory they provide?
I think they should be more proactive and innovative in suggesting alternative fee structures that share risk.  A simple example is offering a fixed fee for a high volume of repetitive transactions.

Do you ever miss working in private practice? 
I do. I think one of the things I miss is the greater ability to debate difficult (even academic) legal issues with experts in particular field.

What do you love about your job?
At the moment we’re being taken over by Vitol.  I love the current challenge of leading change in the company.

What is the best advice you have ever been given?
Make the most of your opportunities.

Complete this sentence:  “If I wasn’t a lawyer, I would be…”
In advertising.  I’ve always been fascinated by the phenomenon of convincing people to buy something they don’t need.

How do you take your coffee?
Extra-strong latte.  

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