Shalinee Fernandez is a Malaysian citizen of Indian origin. She is a litigation and corporate lawyer with over 21 years of experience including cross-border & international jurisdictions.
She has excellent academic achievements which include law degrees from the University of London, and the University of New England, and an honors doctorate in the field of International Law and Legal studies.
Shalinee Fernandez started working as a litigation lawyer in the year 2002 and then after working diligently for around five years, later started exploring new opportunities in the year 2007.
She transitioned to an in-house counsel role at the Malaysian Stock Exchange. After handling regulatory work for a year, she went to work for a Multinational Company Bluescope Steel, as a legal and compliance manager in the year 2010.
She has also worked for various companies such as Atos, and OLA and is currently working as a Senior Legal Counsel Global Operations Associate Director at Ansell where she leads the legal operations in India, Srilanka, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Thailand and heads the global supply chain from a legal perspective.
IcyTales is in conversation with Shalinee Fernandez about her experience as a lawyer so far.
Q) What initially drew you to pursue law as a career?
Shalinee Fernandez: I remember when I was 5 or 6 years old and I was watching a program on television, and I asked “What do lawyers do?” and someone told me that they fight for the rights of the people who are less privileged, and that resonated with me.
From that time onwards, I had always known that I would want to work as a lawyer. I do not quite see myself doing something else apart from a legal career.
This is something very close to my personality. I do a lot of pro-bono advice for animal rights. And as a lawyer, there is so much you can do.
Q) Can you tell how is this current job profile different from the regular corporate job?
Shalinee Fernandez: My current job at Ansell is a global operations role at an Australian Manufacturing company that is a global leader in protective solutions and medical and industrial gloves. I get to support operations in various jurisdictions.
I handle legal operations and sustainability projects such as biomass, solar, reverse osmosis, and various energy projects for the environment which is at the forefront of where we are today.
We work towards combatting forced labor too. As an in-house counsel, you have to sit with the business, therefore it is important to have business acumen.
It is very different from that of a practicing lawyer who only gives legal advice whereas here you have to deal with a lot of stakeholders such as finance, IT, manufacturing, etc. in applying the law with what works best for the business whilst advising them on risk mitigation, etc.
Q) Throughout your 21 years of experience, what has been the most rewarding case or project you’ve worked on, and why?
Shalinee Fernandez: One of the most rewarding projects I worked on was when I worked with Ola as a legal consultant setting up operations in international markets.
I have always envisioned myself working in different parts of the world and this project did that for me. Despite being a Malaysian lawyer, I was privileged to have been interviewed for several positions in India before joining OLA.
They say good days don’t come to you; you need to walk toward them. I had my heart and mind set on moving to 1 of the world’s biggest IT hubs which is India. One year on, I got into OLA.
At that time, they were looking to expand their operations to Australia, New Zealand and the UK. The next thing I knew I had flight tickets in my hand and I flew off to Melbourne to start one of the most exciting career portfolios of my life.
I think it was a turning point in my career. I was based out of Melbourne, Sydney, and Bangalore and I had a team working from India.
As we worked in different time zones this was certainly challenging We had only two months to get the requisite accreditations for each state in Australia bearing in mind there are 6 states and 10 Federal Territories. There was a lot of pressure but it was all worth it.
That was one of the most exciting times of my life. The whole project was successfully delivered.
Q) What drives your passion for working in cross-border and international jurisdictions? How do you navigate the complexities and unique challenges that come with it?
Shalinee Fernandez: I think the laws will remain the same but what is different is that different countries have different considerations. One of my passions is to understand how these laws differ from one another.
For example, in India and Malaysia, the data privacy laws are perhaps less mature as compared to European countries where the GDPR is present but these laws are rapidly evolving and it is very interesting to see how this unfolds especially in a cross-border context where information is stored in 1 place from where a business may be operating.
Negotiation then carries on with the other party to get the best possible policies. I think there is a need for a continuance learning process that is required for it, which drives me.
Q) Legal Education, as we all know is a very broad field, one can opt for practice in different fields, how you would suggest students make a choice?
Shalinee Fernandez: I have seen that many students have the fixed mindset to join a law firm or to go for litigation. But actually, there is so much one can do with a law degree.
I always advise students to experience both. I advise them to practice for at least 4-5 years in a court before moving to an in-house role.
Because if you have not experienced or trained in that aspect you will not be able to perform better in your role in corporate given you will already know how to diffuse any pending legal issue from the onset.
My advice would be to pursue everything generally and move into your area of interest where your passion lies and not the traditional approach of doing what everyone else is doing. Only then will you be able to find your niche.
Q) What strategies do you employ to manage stress and maintain a healthy work-life balance in a demanding legal career?
Shalinee Fernandez: It is never easy to balance both. The only person who can draw a boundary for proper balance is yourself.
I think work will always be there but it is very important to have a cut-off time. Everything will seem urgent but you should know how to prioritize.
You should learn how to say “No”. Your job is only one aspect of your life and you need to balance other aspects too.
I try to step away from the stress by going to the spa during my lunchtime when I can, I make time to connect with myself and my family, listen to some good music, or watch something.
It is the little things that you do for yourself and it does not need to be a long holiday. You have to remember to recharge yourself.
Q) Can you tell us about a time when you faced a setback or failure in your professional life? How did you overcome it and what did you learn from the experience?
Shalinee Fernandez: I joined a Media company before Ansell. But I realized that it was not a right fit for me. The industry was not suited for me. I tried but I couldn’t go on.
I wouldn’t call it a failure but it was something that made me realize that it is important to do what you enjoy and not something that drains you.
Q) Where do you see yourself professionally in the next five years, and how do you plan to achieve those goals?
Shalinee Fernandez: When I was younger I used to have a 10-year plan but after COVID, I do not do that anymore.
I love what I presently do as I have the most amazing boss who mentors me. Given how dynamic things are these days I take it a day at a time. But having said that; there is a part of me that wishes to explore more and take on more challenges.
So five years from now, I would either be where I am you will find me in some other part of the world.
When you travel you get a chance to know a lot of different amazing people. Apart from this, down the road, I see myself doing a lot of social work and giving back to society.
Q) What advice would you give to law students reading the interview?
Shalinee Fernandez: Remember that dreams do come true but that requires hard work. Try to get a good mentor since a good mentor will always guide you to do better. Always be prepared to accept criticism- good or bad as it will help you grow and improve.
Get clarity about what you want to do. Focus and things will naturally fall into place. Also never stop learning because that is when you become stagnated.
Shalinee Fernandez apart from being a successful lawyer loves to travel and believes that if you have passion and purpose, it will lead you to people just like you.
She believes in the mantra that people should not limit themselves and should always dream big & work hard. Nothing is impossible if you set your mind to it.