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Josef Malik, Associate Group General Counsel, Sims Limited

Alumni spotlight

Josef Malik

Associate Group General Counsel, Sims Limited

Josef Malik’s in-house legal career began much sooner than expected. In 2014, after completing his training contract with Eversheds Sutherland in Birmingham, he rejoined Sims Limited, an Australian listed company, and global leader in diversified environmental services.

It was a decision based on equal parts “arrogance and ignorance”, he says. Eight years on, Chicago-based Josef leads the legal operations globally for Sims and is responsible for the direction and strategy of all things legal.

Did you always want to become a lawyer when you were growing up?

I come from a working-class background, and my family are originally from Gibraltar, where my great grandfather moved to from Punjab in pre-partition India. My parents spent a considerable time in my youth moving around the world, living in Canada, Germany, the US and finally settling in Leicestershire in 2005. They had ambitions for me as their eldest to enter one of the professions – medicine, law, engineering or accountancy. Out of those four, I was drawn mostly to law.

After graduating with a law degree, you chose not to go into law. Why was that?

I wanted to use my legal degree not necessarily as a lawyer but in a different capacity. After law school, I decided to go into a non-legal setting that was heavily regulated. So I joined Sims, an environmental business, on their graduate operations scheme having previously studied environmental law.

You then joined Eversheds Sutherland as a trainee?

Yes, I actually came into contact with the firm through Sims who were using them as external counsel. I listened in on meetings and saw what an amazing job their lawyers were doing. It also provided, I thought, a wider perspective on life.

So, really, I gravitated towards Eversheds Sutherland out of admiration. I was attracted by their location in Birmingham and reputation as one of the top legal practices in the City and internationally. I really wanted a firm that was global in its outlook.

What are your memories from your training contract?

My time as a trainee was hugely formative; it shaped who I am today. I remember the initiation week going up to Leeds – the conversations, the activities and, of course, the nights out. I’m glad to say that I stayed in touch with many from my in-take. Those bonds have endured both professionally and personally which is incredibly gratifying.

Why did you move in-house?

As it happened, I advised Sims as a trainee, and when an opportunity presented itself to rejoin them after qualifying, I took it. My main remit was to build a legal function but the role was not an exclusively legal one which appealed to me.

I had a great time at Eversheds Sutherland and put a lot of thought into leaving. Going in-house with zero years’ PQE was probably a decision based on a combination of arrogance and ignorance. But when you have youth on your side, you can afford to be a bit naïve! Looking back, it’s been quite a ride in a short period of time.

What are the focus areas of your role as Associate Group General Counsel?

I’m responsible for the global legal operations function for Sims, leading a team of five lawyers and support staff, with more secretarial people on hand, as required. Sims has multiple divisions within the conglomerate, everything from scrap metal recycling to gas to energy facilities and many others. They’re each independent with their own management teams and separate goals and objectives. They all need legal support. My job is to align our work output with the requirements of the businesses.

How important is environmental, social and governance (ESG) to Sims?

ESG is absolutely fundamental to our business strategy. We’re in the business of ESG so it’s a core component in ensuring that we build sustainable structures for the countries in which we operate and ensuring long-term growth and values to humanity at large.

As a manager of teams, do you miss being on the legal frontline?

I still spend a lot of time on the legal frontline, not so much in reviewing NDAs, but building self-help systems, training for stakeholders and making best use of legal resources. In an in-house setting, my ethos when building the legal function has been on creating an environment of “work smart, not only hard”. We can work very smartly without having to expend an enormous amount of effort that takes away from our ability to strategically advise our clients, and increase unnecessary overheads.

What would you say to people thinking of moving in-house?

My biggest advice to anybody thinking about a career in an in-house setting is to ask the question, what are your motivations? The focus should be on developing yourself as a lawyer. If you’re making the move to become a more rounded individual and counsel then absolutely, in-house is the right approach. It’ll give you insights rarely found elsewhere.

However, if you’re looking to make a move purely for the sake of wanting an easier lifestyle, be careful, because that’s not necessarily the experience of most in-house counsel.

Can you tell me something funny or interesting about you that people might not know?

I love the outdoors and penguins. I watch most nature documentaries on the Discovery Channel featuring penguins. I’ve been to the Antarctic and South Africa to see them. I think they’re wonderful creatures.

How you de-stress outside of work?

I like travelling the world, primarily for penguins, but also for other wildlife. I have a keen interest in environmentalism and the flora and fauna of the world around us. I also do a lot of mountaineering and, most recently, travelled to Ecuador where I climbed Chimborazo.

Josef enjoying the outdoors on a trip to Ecuador

Josef enjoying the outdoors on a trip to Ecuador

If you would like to add Josef Malik to your network, you can connect with him via LinkedIn .