Spotlight on | Emma Rolley, Legal Counsel at Spell & The Gypsy Collective

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Now living the dream in Byron Bay and working for a fashion label, Emma Rolley covered quite a lot of ground (literally) before she and her family decided on a regional sea-change. We talk to Emma about her time with King & Wood Mallesons, how it prepared her for a career as an ex-pat and now as an in-house counsel who wears many hats.

You are the Legal Counsel at Spell & The Gypsy Collective – can you tell us a little bit about what being in-house counsel for a fashion retailer entails? What does an 'average' day look like?

It's been a joy working in-house at Spell & the Gypsy Collective (SPELL) since 2018. It was a steep learning curve starting back in the fashion industry and returning to in-house legal counsel after a period of time out of the law, running my own digital marketing business in Brisbane and Byron, and raising three children.

Initially, SPELL was looking for a part-time lawyer who could assist with their intellectual property matters, help manage their IP portfolio and legal matters in-house - having historically used external law firms for their first 8 years of operation. My role quickly evolved into managing and advising our team and General Manager on all general commercial matters, all things legal, risk and compliance - ultimately managing legal matters back in-house.

An average day at SPELL is at our head office in Byron Bay where I work alongside and support our 12 key departments. I meet with other department heads for board and senior leaders' meetings and work on a diverse range of general commercial matters reviewing, drafting and advising on contracts with the team. I spend a lot of time with our busiest departments which are Digital/Online, Logistics, Wholesale, Production and the Marketing/PR teams. There is also the occasional visit to our SPELL Boutique in Byron.

You have had a varied career, not always working in legal practice, can you tell us a little about how KWM fit into your career path and did the experience also equip you for other types of roles?

After graduating in 2000, I began my legal career with Mallesons in Brisbane, before moving south to continue work at Mallesons in the Melbourne office and then overseas working as an ex-pat lawyer in Dublin before the GFC.

Mallesons set me up for successfully gaining roles in-house in Melbourne at Telstra and Sensis, in Dublin working for a top-tier Irish firm, A & L Goodbody, and again in-house at Meteor Mobile, Eire Telecom. I quickly realised working in-house in a company, engaging with corporate stakeholders and shareholders was my passion.

Upon returning to Brisbane, I decided to change direction completely and established my own digital marketing company. My legal training in IT/IP /general commercial skills were invaluable in running my own business, before my family decided to move away from the city to Byron Bay where we've raised our three children, who are all now at primary and high school.

It's been a joy working in-house at Spell & the Gypsy Collective since 2018. It was a steep learning curve starting back in the fashion industry and returning to in-house legal counsel after a period of time out of the law.

You worked at KWM during a formative part of your career – are their experiences or people that had an impact on you?

Training at Mallesons during my first five years as a graduate of the College of Law in Sydney and then as a solicitor and associate was such a wonderful platform for me to progress and gain valuable experience in a top tier firm. It set me up for wonderful opportunities with large public and private companies and engaging with corporate clients.

Working with and alongside well-known, renowned partners and senior associates in Brisbane and Melbourne including Justin McDonnell, John Swinson, Michael McCafferty, Paul McLachlan, Amanda Bodger, Neil Carabine, Lisa Hunt, Caroline Coops and Renae Lattey, meant invaluable mentoring, experience and training as a junior lawyer at Mallesons for which I will be forever grateful for. These mentors and partners made a huge impact on me and how I work with clients on large matters and towards my passion of an in-house career.

You work at the label's HQ in Byron Bay, a part of the world known for offering a great lifestyle! How important is flexible working to you, especially given our experiences over the past few months?

Work life balance and flexibility is so important to me, having children and a busy husband who is a GP in Byron and Mullumbimby. The whole reason we moved regionally and decided on an early sea-change was for work life balance. 

Ever since COVID-19, working remotely and enjoying a slower pace of life has been even more important, it enables us to live life more simply, have less stress and more happiness for our family. I have been extremely lucky being able to find an in-house legal role in Byron. Ten years ago, when we moved here it was all small family/property law firms, but ever since all the celebrities and CEOs have established themselves in Byron, there are a lot more in-house legal opportunities.

The whole reason we moved regionally and decided on an early sea-change was for work life balance. 

Is there anyone at KWM you are close with/have maintained a relationship with?

Unfortunately, due to life, raising a family, moving overseas and then regionally, it has been hard to keep in contact with my fellow Mallesons alumni. I have been able to keep in touch with many old Mallesons colleagues working in Australia and overseas and within other firms over social media. I often see friends who are in-house counsel (Energex, Treasury Casino, BHP, Santos, etc) at networking or CPD events as well as friends in the Mallesons business development and marketing departments. As is always the case, many of my former colleagues have moved on to other roles, so it's hard keeping up with everyone having busy lives, raising children and forging their own careers.

For people who don't think the path to partner or corporate law is for them – what advice would you give about finding what interests or drives you?

Gain as much varied experience and diverse training as possible and seek out as many secondments in varied companies as you can. 

Secondment opportunities to Telstra, BigPond and Sensis really paved the way for my career in business and assisted me in starting up, managing and running my own small business, as well as moving regionally to work in a more flexible, slower and diversified environment in-house.

What is the best thing about working for a fashion label?

Our SPELL clothing allowance! SPELL's dreamy boho-style dresses and clothing have meant a wonderful work wardrobe.

Seriously, the culture and team environment has been a dream and working alongside business clients on a diverse range of interesting and dynamic matters every week.


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