As associate general counsel at Transurban, Chris Bugel is a jack-of-all-trades who’s passionate about the marriage of business and legal. He began his law career as an in-house counsel before going into private practice at several firms, and ultimately went back in-house for his current role, where he supports the development team with infrastructure projects, risk, compliance, human resources, and innovative technology.
In reflecting on his impressive and accomplished career, his biggest takeaways aren’t about the “lawyering”—with practice, a robust project pipeline, and time those skills develop organically. The most important lessons he has learned have been about how to successfully navigate different personalities, and striking the right balance between business priorities and legal requirements and meeting client expectations.
“Some clients require more time than others, some can be more challenging to work with, and others require faster turnaround times, but at the end of the day, it’s about understanding their needs and managing expectations,” says Bugel, who has worked at the tolling and transport technology services operator since 2018. “It’s important in a law firm environment and it’s not much different when you’re in house. Your clients are closer, but they still deserve the same level of service and attention.”
This requires “not always listening like a lawyer.” “Lawyers listen but they tend to listen in a different way,” Bugel explains. “When you’re in-house, you have to reprogram yourself to not listen exclusively like a lawyer, but also with an appreciation of the business context. Most law firm lawyers are simply digesting information, contemplating the next move, and a legal response.”
Instead, Bugel instructs, “Often times you just need to step back, be an active listener and resist the temptation to immediately contemplate your legal strategy,” This wisdom continues to be vital in his current role at Transurban, where he’s helping to drive the company’s development pipeline, enhancing the risk and compliance framework, and supporting the company’s mobile tolling application, Go-Toll.
While he supports those efforts and other initiatives, Bugel admits that a large part of his job over the past two years has been successfully building and managing his team. “Managing people can be very rewarding and if you are giving your team the attention they deserve, it can take up a lot of your time,” he says.
Bugel wants to ensure his team members are happy, feel fulfilled, and are in positions to grow in their roles and beyond. He does that by making efforts to learn more about his team members both professionally and personally, providing them autonomy, and making an effort to be readily accessible to meet as issues arise.
The AGC also encourages his colleagues to get out of their comfort zone. Every year, each team member is required to come up with something they want to know more about. “We figure out how to ramp up their knowledge,” he says. “I push folks out of their comfort zone to build their brand.”
The attorney has seen the benefits this courage can have in his own career. After getting his law degree from the Catholic University of America, his legal career began at CapitalSource Finance, stepping into an in-house role earlier than he thought he would. After two years of closing and running deals, he saw the value to receive a traditional law firm training to further his development.
“Some of my colleagues said, ‘You’re doing more sophisticated work than most of your friends at big law firms, but there’s a gap in your legal training that only law firm experience can provide,’” Bugel recalls.
That insight inspired him to make the tough decision to leave CapitalSource and to gain experience in private practice. For the next twelve years of his career, Bugel worked as an associate at Fleischman and Harding LLP, Chadbourne & Parke LLP, and Greenberg Traurig LLP. In those roles, he gained a broad expertise in M&A, capital markets, securities, and private equity matters. He also gained experience serving as outside counsel and helping in-house legal teams with their day-to-day business operations.
All those experiences make him the perfect fit for his role at Transurban. Moving forward, he wants to be involved in more project-based work and more involved with the development team. “As I continue to learn more about the business, deal-structuring, and what makes a project viable, my goal is to become more well-versed in the development realm and the pipeline,” Bugel says.
“No matter the complexity of the issue, its successful resolution is always achieved because of Chris’s spot-on legal analysis, excellent judgment, and steadfast dedication to his client’s best interests.”
–Phil Andrews, Principal, Government Contracts & Procurement
“Chris is exactly the type of lawyer you want to work with on a complex transactional matter. He understands commercial objectives, focuses on critical issues and knows when and how to exercise judgment in the best interests of his client.”
—Joe Seliga, Co-Lead of Mayer Brown’s Projects & Infrastructure Practice