Working in Government

What can you expect from a career as a government lawyer?

For talented graduates, or lawyers already in practice, the public sector is a great place to launch or further develop a legal career. It’s a challenging and dynamic environment infused with a commitment to public service and opportunities to extend your professional acumen. Talent and enthusiasm are rewarded with access to complex issues, professional development and mentoring opportunities.


One of the most rewarding aspects of a government legal career is the inherent sense of contribution it brings. Whether your passion is environmental issues, child welfare or economic growth there is a government agency working in that area. You know your work is directly upholding the Rule of Law, the effective workings of Government and better outcomes for all New Zealanders.

The scope of legal issues confronting government is broad, and diverse agencies and departments require access to skilled advocates. Organisations are often grouped in sectors such as Natural Resources, Social Services, Justice, Trade, Security and Defence. A list of all New Zealand Public Service agencies is available on the Te Kawa Mataaho Public Service Commission's website.

There are always issues requiring the expertise and leadership of government lawyers:

  • Economic management: trade, investment, intellectual property and protection of industries integral to our economy.
  • Biodiversity and Environment: protecting New Zealand’s unique ecology from threat, maintaining our Antarctic interests and responding to emergencies.
  • Energy and Transport: enabling economic prosperity and environmental sustainability through advocacy related to the use of natural resources and the design of efficient, connected and safe transportation networks.
  • Te Tiriti o Waitangi/Treaty of Waitangi: supporting positive and enduring relationships between the Crown and Māori, concluding the remaining Treaty Negotiations and incorporating Treaty principles into New Zealand statutes.
  • Constitutional and Human Rights: upholding the democratic rights and freedoms of New Zealanders through effective legislation, constitutional conventions and fair elections. Using our positive reputation to support international human rights efforts.
  • Responding to and minimising crime: enabling a fair, transparent and accessible justice system, holding offenders to account, and reducing the occurrence and impact of crime in New Zealand.
  • Health and welfare: ensuring New Zealand’s legislation and policies support efficient and effective state health and welfare systems focused on addressing need, preventing abuse and supporting the vulnerable.
  • Education: ensuring New Zealanders have ready access to learning and development – from early childhood education through to advanced tertiary learning. 
  • Communication and infrastructure: enabling smooth business transactions and better access to learning through swift and reliable communications infrastructure (e.g. broadband technology).
  • Defence, security and International: supporting New Zealand as a sovereign nation state, participating in international conflict management and peace efforts, and upholding our obligations under international accords.

Through on-the-job mentoring and more formal development opportunities, you’ll gain a diverse range of experience and (dependent on your area of specialisation) exposure to the workings of the various courts and tribunals. Your ongoing development will also be actively supported through a diverse range of seminars, lectures and networking opportunities. This will help you stay connected with your wider colleagues, and the latest developments and opportunities in public sector legal practice.

A public sector legal career allows you to explore the relationships between law, public service and governance. But it doesn’t preclude you from other career options. A legal qualification, combined with experience in government, will make you a compelling candidate for roles in both the public and private sectors.