Change management - Brad Duncan, Head of Legal and Compliance at the Carbon Trust

Posted in Interviews on 25 May 2017

Brad Duncan is Head of Legal and Company Secretary for the Carbon Trust.

Originally qualified in NSW, Australia Brad began his career as a Solicitor at Mallesons in 1998 before moving to Linklaters in London in 2001 where he was a Managing Associate in the structured finance group..

Brad moved to Citigroup’s General Counsel’s Office in 2006 where he stayed until he moved to the Carbon Trust in 2015.

We caught up with Brad who kindly provided some insight into his current role and professional and personal motivators.

Tell us about The Carbon Trust Brad.

The Carbon Trust is a mission-driven organisation working to accelerate the move to a sustainable, low carbon economy. Originally established by Government, it is now an independent organisation operating globally, advising businesses, governments and multilateral organisations on climate change policy and innovation. The Carbon Trust’s wide-ranging business also includes private equity and venture capital investment, regulated consumer lending and environmental certification.

And what is your role there?

As Head of Legal and Company Secretary I'm responsible for all legal and compliance issues affecting the Carbon Trust group globally, including for our offices in China, Mexico and South Africa. I’m also responsible for the corporate administration of the group (including in relation to our investment portfolio). As part of senior management I’m involved in strategic planning decision-making and whilst on a day-to-day basis I provide advice on all manner of areas, from general contract to employment. I’m also responsible for managing external counsel and setting policies related to bribery and corruption, data protection and money laundering (amongst other things) and ensuring compliance.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

Having previously worked at a very large, multi-national investment bank and before that large law firms, it’s extremely empowering and rewarding to add a legal voice to strategic decision-making and business planning. I’ve come to appreciate that a lawyer’s opinion in those contexts is very much valued.

What are the main challenges of your role?

There are probably two things. Firstly, from a practical perspective keeping up with legal developments can be a challenge, particularly in a business that operates internationally (with offices in three overseas locations). However, I recently heard a general counsel say at a conference that you can’t expect to know and understand every legal development yourself and that someone else will probably work it out. All you need is an ability to find out when they do.

Secondly, evidencing the value of the legal function to the wider business. It’s very hard to evidence value when nothing goes wrong. That’s why when something does go wrong it’s extremely important for the legal function to own it and manage the resolution and learnings. A “lessons learned” process can be very valuable.

Why the law and why In House?

I have a pretty fundamental and long-standing view that it really is the rule of law that forms the fabric of society. That sounds like something straight out of a text book but even so I think it’s true. And it doesn’t matter what the context is, be it social order and justice, regulation of the economy and investments, climate change or even just road rules, the law is there to make sure a very complex society works in the most efficient and just manner. In terms of in-house, it wasn’t so much an ambition as taking up an opportunity to do something different. I don’t think in-house is better or worse than private practice, it’s just different.

Have you always worked in House? 

No, I worked in private practice for about eight years before moving in-house. I started at what is now King & Wood Mallesons in Sydney in 1998 before moving to Linklaters in London in 2001. I moved to Citigroup’s General Counsel’s Office in 2006 where I stayed until I moved to the Carbon Trust in 2015.

What is the best piece of advice you can give to an ambitious Solicitor at the start of their legal career?

It really does depend. Some people are interested in a cause or a very specific area of law, such as human rights or criminal justice and want to become a lawyer in order to be part of that. Other people, like me, just want to be involved in the law. To the former I’d say get as much on your CV about your area of interest as you can. Join groups, write articles, volunteer or take a course. Being able to prove your enthusiasm and dedication is invaluable. To the latter I would say be open-minded as the law can be fulfilling in all manner of contexts but also know the market. And to everyone I’d say don’t forget that being a lawyer is about talking, reaching agreement, finding common ground and achieving outcomes by being a facilitator so personal skills and the ability to communicate effectively are vital.

Who has been the biggest influence on your career and why?

I can think of a few contenders. A friend I’ve known all my life who I really admire, my high school legal studies teacher, my first Partner at Mallesons and a Partner I worked for at Linklaters. I couldn’t pick one of them really so I’ll go with my wife who supported me when I decided to change career and move into climate change and sustainability.

So far what has been your career highlight?

Being able to work in climate change is an absolute highlight. Each and every day I feel privileged to play just one very small part in one of the most critical issues facing humanity. However, there was one transaction at Mallesons where a client came in with a problem and I told my Partner I could sort it out. Even though I was still pretty junior said ok and left me to it. I came up with the structure and managed it to completion although the relevant regulator hadn’t granted approval by the time I left. I remember being at my desk at Linklaters some time later when I got an email telling me that everything had been signed off and approved. If I recall correctly my old Partner finished the email with a simple “well done”. I was pretty happy with that.

What has been your greatest achievement so far in life?

My two kids. The sense of achievement that comes from keeping two helpless humans alive and happy (particularly the first one when you have no idea what’s happening) is not something easily described.

Tell us a bit about yourself?

I’m originally from Sydney Australia and originally moved to London for two years, sixteen years ago. I’m now happily married to an American (also a lawyer) and we have two little girls.

I feel passionately about climate change and the need to address it urgently. I hear people deny climate change all the time on no basis whatsoever whereas I go to events where world-leading scientists use numbers, graphs and pictures to prove that the climate is changing and the risk of it getting much, much worse is increasing. Why would anyone question that and want to risk our future? I also love snowboarding so have a vested interest in making sure it doesn’t happen. 

Thanks Brad 

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