General Counsel: Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade
I am General Counsel at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and was previously Senior Crown Counsel in the Crown Legal Risk Group at the Crown Law Office. I also have experience in the private sector and believe this has been an asset in my public sector roles.
Throughout my career, I have tended to work on matters with a commercial focus. I joined Crown Law in February 2011 after gaining experience in the private sector, where I regularly provided advice to both private and public sector clients. The role at Crown Law appealed to me for two main reasons: the variety of the work and the opportunity to be involved earlier in advice and litigation matters than is often the case in the private sector. Being able to influence things at an earlier stage was a definite attraction.
One of the most valuable skills I have brought across from the private sector is a strong awareness of the need to understand the working context of clients’ legal issues. Regardless in which sector you work, solid technical and contextual skills – supported by the ability to communicate well – are incredibly important. As Crown lawyers (whether at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Crown Law or in-house) we also should operate in a way that encourages our clients to use us because they want to, not because they have to. Interestingly, a fair amount of my private-sector work was for people litigating against the Crown, which I think has helped me better understand how to articulate the Crown’s position when defending it.
Take as many opportunities as you can meet, as often as you can, even if it’s a stretch. I’d particularly encourage you to undertake secondments to further develop your skills in diverse environments – you’ll never regret taking the chance to explore the variety of opportunities that exist in government.
One of the real strengths of being an in-house public sector lawyer is the organisational knowledge associated with providing high-quality advice over a period of time. This means we ‘know how things work’, so we can gear up quickly when new and difficult matters come in. The Government Legal Network helps to ensure we adopt that process consistently throughout the public sector, wherever we work.
On the subject of difficult matters - in jest I like to say I have often worked on disasters! During my time at Crown Law, I essentially started with work on Canterbury earthquake matters in February 2011, moving at one stage to do some work on the Pike River tragedy, and then after that I spent a lot of time working on Rena-related matters. This is one of any number of areas where a co-ordinated Crown approach has been really important, and you tend to get the sorts of skills you can’t get anywhere else. Certainly what I have been able to experience in the public sector has helped to broaden my skill set in a way I wouldn’t have thought possible before I came here.
For those lawyers who are at the beginning of their careers, or who are entering the public service, I’d say “do as much as you can”. Take as many opportunities as you can meet, as often as you can, even if it’s a stretch. I’d particularly encourage you to undertake secondments to further develop your skills in diverse environments – you’ll never regret taking the chance to explore the variety of opportunities that exist in government.
There is no doubt the work government lawyers do makes a real impact. To take just litigation as an example – the Courts rely on the Crown researching as widely, relevantly and deeply as possible to enable decision-making. Of course, this doesn’t mean that the Crown wins all of its cases! But it does mean the Courts can rely on the Crown to anticipate the sorts of concerns and issues which the Court will raise. For me, this means that apart from the role we can play in the resolution of the particular case, our work has a broader rule of law impact which is good not just for the Crown, but for everyone.