While still one of the relatively younger Lawyers on the scene — Renita Sophia Crasta has already developed an expertise as an in-house real estate specialist — having trained with one of Singapore’s leading law firms. Armed with her corporate law and litigation experience – she successfully faces many of today’s in-house challenges effectively. In this interview with Asia Law Portal, she details some of the opportunities and challenges in-house counsel are now facing in these changing Covid-19 times.
You’re Group Legal Counsel at Temasek Real Estate Group: CapitaLand-Ascendas. Tell us more about this
In-house counsels occupy a unique role to help protect and steer the company in its assessment of legal risks, as well as to move quickly to take advantage of opportunities. Having been a legal counsel for real estate companies within Temasek’s real estate group, I’ve been quite privileged to work with some of our best real estate companies in Singapore, including amidst the current ongoing Covid-19 crisis. At the same time, as an in-house counsel, we are placed front and centre in helping the business to make many decisions real-time, as well as to witness and assist many business dealings. It has overall been quite fulfilling to do so, as the work is varied and interesting, and allows for much scope for legal counsels to contribute even more widely to overall business and societal outcomes.
Given some of the challenges that have been taking place amidst Covid-19 times, what is your personal experience of some of the roles that in-house counsels may play during this period?
Covid-19 has indeed presented in-house counsels with a unique set of challenges and opportunities, as many of our businesses try to navigate the uncertain and ever-changing times. Hence, apart from our traditional role of legal advice and assessment of risks, in-house counsels have also had to deal with the many changing laws, policies, as well as the various commercial decisions as our businesses pivot towards better outcomes. Many in-house counsels like myself, have therefore also had the opportunity to be brought into conversations on many of the emerging trends, as well as how businesses may evolve to future-proof ourselves better. Along with that, many in-house counsels, including at our company, have also been taking the opportunity to digitalise much of the work that we do, as meetings and discussions go more online, and standard processes are increasingly set out as electronic processes forward. This also allows for better streamlining of time and paperwork, as well as the better capturing of data for record and analysis. Indeed, I do believe that the in-house counsel of the future has to be adequately digitally skilled to help companies ensure that they have ready electronic access to standardised libraries of documents, digital signing as well as the use of digital tools for quick review and preparation in deals.
You have received certifications from both the Singapore Mediation Center (SMC) and Singapore International Mediation Centre (SIMC) for their mediation training. Tell us more about how mediation plays a part in your current role and its’ importance to business efficiency.
With the enactment of the Singapore Convention on Mediation, mediation as a practice has been given a whole new level of recognition in Singapore as well as worldwide. This has been a welcome development, including at our company, as mediation has been very much a part of both our Singaporean, as well as Asian culture, with our preference to preserve relationships and anonymity in disputes before they escalate to court. Hence, combined with the quality and expertise of mediation offered by centres such as the SMC and SIMC, I would say that mediation as a practice indeed bodes well in the legal sector, and we look forward to more steps to encourage the practice.
You’re currently the Co-Chair of the Singapore Corporate Counsel Association’s (SCCA) Young In-House Lawyers Chapter. Tell us more about SCCA and its’ work to assist the careers of younger lawyers.
SCCA has been an extremely invaluable resource for many in-house counsels over the years, and especially younger lawyers that may just be starting out or looking to develop their skills further and keep abreast of the ever-changing legal landscape. While it is a much younger organisation compared to our Law Society counterparts for law firm practitioners, it has done well over the past 10 years to truly be the flagship in-house counsel association that aims to value-add to all our in-house counsels, as well as a defining body at the heart of Asian in-house legal capabilities in the region. With the growing numbers of in-house counsels in Singapore and globally as well, it is also apt that SCCA continues to grow in its focus on digital and pro bono areas this 2020, and I would warmly recommend it for any in-house counsel that is looking for a community to grow as well as contribute to in the coming years.
What advice do you have for lawyers aspiring to in-house careers or advancing in a current in-house career?
For lawyers aspiring to enter in-house, I would say that it all depends on where you can see yourself long-term. While the law firm definitely has its perks, and joys of specialising in a topic, the draw and benefits of in-house are also immeasurable for those who like to work close with their clients and be part of the wider business and/or societal picture. Hence, while I do think the initial law firm grounding is extremely critical and useful, finding the right company in-house and learning the skills that would enable you to succeed in-house can be really meaningful and satisfying.
Outside of work, you have also been active in elderly, women and migrant worker causes during this Covid period with the Covid Migrant Support Coalition, Young Women Leadership Connection, Love our Elderly SG, the Alzheimer’s Disease Association, and more. Tell us more about your work in these initiatives.
I am glad to have been able to respond during Covid times to various needs such as with our migrant workers, the isolated elderly, as well as to promote mental health amongst our women, and various pro bono talks and initiatives to help our communities and charities navigate much of the changing landscape of laws and policies during the Covid period. In this regard, I am clearly a big supporter of each of us being able to do what we can, regardless of background – and what more as legal professionals – to the extent that we can, so as to support the many needs around us. At the same time, I am mindful of prioritising the initiatives I am involved in and am glad that my company as well as SCCA simultaneously supported many of these initiatives through their CSR and our pro bono programmes respectively. I therefore look forward to the continued role that us in-house counsels can therefore play, both in work and beyond, along with our deep understanding of the many ongoing complexities that need to be addressed in these times.