Meet Elisabeth Davies (nee Koster)

Oh the places you'll go…from MinterEllison to Amazon

1. What did your career at MinterEllison involve and how long where you with employed with us?

I started at MinterEllison as a grad in the Sydney office in March 2009. I rotated through HR/IR under Kristy Edser, then settled in IP under Charles Alexander and later John Fairbairn. I became a Senior Associate in June 2014.

My practice focussed on privacy and data protection, consumer protection, IP matters including licensing and enforcement of IP rights, and large-scale litigation including trade practices, copyright, trade mark, and breach of confidential information actions. I undertook a number of secondments to key firm clients including Optus, Qantas, Foxtel and the Commonwealth Government in the e-health records transition project, and I was also the lead pro bono lawyer in the Sydney office.

My time working at MinterEllison was incredibly valuable. Charles and John taught me to be pragmatic, and encouraged calculated risk-taking rather than fence-sitting. This, plus their legendary client service and ability to bring good humour to any situation, were assets I took from MinterEllison which have been invaluable to my practice to date.

2. Describe your current position and job responsibilities.

I joined Amazon in June 2017, as part of the Digital Legal team, supporting the Alexa Communications business. I act as the lead lawyer for US and global launches for the Alexa calling and messaging service, which aims to bring people closer together by enabling our customers to use their Echo devices to communicate with friends and family.

I work closely with a world-leading client group that supports over 400 engineers and provides legal advice across a wide spectrum of issues in connection with the design, development, implementation and marketing of the service and launch of new communications features. This most often includes providing advice on regulatory, privacy, go-to-market, IP and product compliance issues.

3. What made you decide to pursue a career within the technology space and more specifically abroad?

I completed my Honours thesis (at the University of Technology, Sydney) in the area of privacy and emerging technologies. I realised how much the space was going to evolve, and how increasingly rapid the pace of change would become. The legal implications of tech innovation interested me, particularly as it related to consumer products and platforms that people would come to use and depend on every day.

Upon joining MinterEllison, I started working with Charles Alexander to build out the firm’s privacy and data protection practice - which at that time was an evolving area of importance for our commercial clients. Taking a special interest in this space, I was encouraged to lead the development of expertise across the firm by coordinating the MinterEllison national privacy team and presenting and advising frequently on emerging regulatory trends and the considerations this posed for our clients.

After working closely with Optus as a client, I joined their Consumer Legal team in 2014. It was at an interesting time when the telco was looking to grow its influence and reach across a range of IP-delivered products and services to disrupt established industries - like their move into content for example. The exposure I gained at Optus proved invaluable when the opportunity to join Amazon arose.

My move overseas to Amazon HQ was really about the opportunity to be at the epicentre of technology, innovation and customer service. The size and scale of a global company like Amazon certainly opens up a whole world of possibilities.

4. What does your typical work day look like?

As clichéd as it sounds, there really is no typical day at Amazon! The company values 'big thinking', so ideas are encouraged and people pursue opportunities in an entrepreneurial fashion. This approach means that my days are a balance of active projects and new ideas or product features my clients are thinking through. Generally speaking, there’s a lot of face-to-face time with clients. My clients value lawyers who have good judgment, trust their instincts and provide advice that helps them keep moving – whether that is to move forward, pivot or pull up. It's a highly outcome-focused workplace!

5. What do you like most about your job?

Amazon really lives out its 'Earth’s most customer-centric company' promise. The customer is at the centre of every decision, and I enjoy working with clients who are intelligent, hard-working, and really care about getting things done and delivering results. The fact that my work is constantly changing – innovative products and services, emerging regulations and policy, and launching product features in new regions around the world – is also really energising and makes me excited to do my job. An additional perk is that my Jack Russell Terrier, Warren, is allowed to come to work with me!

6. What are some of the challenges that you face on a day-to-day basis?

Given that so many of the things that my clients are working on have never actually been done before, there’s isn't always a benchmark available to guide legal decision-making. There can be a lot of ambiguity, and it is often challenging to define the legal considerations that need to be taken into account in these circumstances. Additionally, Amazon works at a relentless pace: we don't always have the luxury of reverting to a client in day or week's time, as they often want our views there and then. This means issue-spotting and providing legal risk assessments when I first I hear about a new product or feature.

7. How have you grown as a lawyer as a result of your current role?

I’ve become increasingly confident in my abilities and judgement. Amazon pushes you to trust your instincts and so far I’ve found that, through my earlier experiences at MinterEllison and Optus, my instincts have been well trained. You learn to be ‘comfortable in feeling uncomfortable’, as you’re continually supporting new ideas or innovations that don’t necessarily align with any existing precedent or legal framework. With Amazon’s focus on customer obsession, I frequently find myself stepping into the customer’s shoes and encouraging my clients to take that point of view. Since most of my client group are ‘builders’, it’s sometimes tricky for them to step back from their products and assess them from a customer's perspective. Often the greatest value our legal team provides is not strictly advising on whether something is legally ‘OK’ – but questioning and challenging the thought of whether the product and experience makes ‘customer sense’.

8. What do you do in your spare time?

Seattle is a great place for being active outdoors. In winter there are a number of ski fields within a couple of hours' drive, and once the warmer weather arrives there's great hiking in the mountains. There’s also a big craft brewing scene, so on sunny weekends it’s nice to walk the dog down to one of the local breweries and enjoy a lazy afternoon in the sun. My husband and I have enjoyed exploring cities along the West Coast including LA, San Francisco, Portland and Vancouver. It’s also been great to share this experience with so many of my former MinterEllison colleagues who are also here.

9. What advice would you have for lawyers wanting to move in-house into the technology space?

I’d say do it! It is challenging and rewarding. I’d recommend becoming familiar with key legal issues in the industry - like privacy and data protection - and networking with other professionals in the field. You should be prepared to make good decisions quickly, and think in terms of the customer. If you’re lucky enough to work somewhere like Amazon, your clients will be some of the best in the business, so get ready for them to push you, challenge your views, and expect a lot from you. At the end of the day though, you’ll find great satisfaction in being part of a talented team that delivers great customer experiences and innovations that have the potential to change the world.

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