Sarah Retter

In the spotlight: Sarah Retter

Fujitsu's General Counsel & Head of Legal - NZ, Sarah Retter, was recently awarded the Greenwood Roche Private Sector In-house Lawyer of the Year Award at ILANZ Awards 2022 - acknowledging her positive energy and development of new processes during her role as acting country manager, running the New Zealand business during a change in leadership. We asked her about her dual roles at Fujitsu, how she coordinates a globally distributed legal function, and how she sees in-house evolving.

What does your day job as both General Counsel and Office of Purpose for Fujitsu – driving diversity, equality and inclusion involve and how do you manage both roles?

As General Counsel in NZ, I oversee a small, full-service in-house team, and sit on the NZ Leadership Team. This means my team and I touch most aspects of the business and have the ability to integrate the diversity, equity and inclusion aspects into all of the facets of our business. This has become more natural over the past two years with the increased focus on people and really ignited my passion for working in this space. Having a voice as a trusted advisor in our business has assisted me with being able to influence and heighten the awareness of the Fujitsu business with regard to diversity and inclusion. For me, it is really integrating my two hats together so that everything I advise on has a diversity and inclusion flavour.

How do you coordinate across a globally distributed legal function to ensure consistency of approach and advice?

Since I joined Fujitsu, we have operated in a distributed team across Oceania, and more recently we have operated in an APAC environment. Recently there has been an increased focus on connecting with our colleagues globally as we work to become One Team. This of course brings challenges, not least of which are local law and customs. However, initiatives such as global projects (which are performed by a team and rolled out globally) and the creation of a global playbook help us to align our approaches across different jurisdictions and also be able to learn from approaches in other countries.

What have been your most recent challenges as General Counsel and how did you address these?

My greatest challenge this year has been making sure that I prioritise my mental health. It can be so easy for us (especially while we are working at home) to keep working and forget that as lawyers, we are also people. This means switching off sometimes and letting people know you are not available, which can be difficult when there are business priorities that need attention. I make sure I take some time every day to get outside without my phone. That’s usually a walk with my dog. It’s the time I use to get away from being contactable, be present and just enjoy her company.

What are some of the trends that you're seeing in the in-house legal profession and how do you see it evolving?

I see the in-house legal profession becoming a much more highly respected and more influential and integrated function in day-to-day business operations. This is due to the increasingly regulated markets that we work in (across all sectors) and the additional compliance burdens being placed on organisations. Businesses tend to have a greater reliance on their in-house teams who have a deep understanding of their businesses and recognise the value they bring to ensure that they remain legally compliant. This fosters a greater appreciation of the value that in-house lawyers can add, and really cements the role as one of Trusted Advisor.

What is the one piece of technology (either current or yet to be created) that would make your day job easier?

I am always looking for ways to reduce administration efforts. This helps us all to focus on high-value work. I would love a piece of technology that could bring all of your systems together into one place so you don’t have to duplicate information everywhere; when you put it into one place, it automatically populates into all of the other places that it is needed – what a difference that would make!