Can you give us an overview of the legal team at Pāmu and how it supports the work of the organisation?
Pāmu (Landcorp Farming Limited) is a state-owned enterprise with a nationwide portfolio of over 115 dairy, sheep, beef and deer farms, a growing forestry and horticulture footprint and interests in other areas including dairy processing, land development, animal genetics and food manufacture and sales.
We are a small team of two – often feeling too small when looking at what’s happening in the business – and like all other in-house teams our primary role is to assist the business in delivering on the strategy and day to day operations. We aim to identify and mitigate risks, and add value across a diverse business. We also share company secretarial responsibilities.
What do you see as the key challenges facing the team and how do you plan to address these?
One of the constant themes in these team overviews is the challenge of doing more with less and keeping on top of the demands of the role with limited resources. When you come out of private practice your natural inclination is to strive for perfection on everything you do – your clients expect it. However, most in-house counsel do not have the luxury of time to do that. My CFO once told me “you’ve got to find comfort in ambiguity” – which I quite like, and is another variation on the 80/20 theme. Knowing where to focus your time and energy, and what you can let go is one of the critical skills for in-house counsel. It took a long time for me to let things go (e.g. sloppy drafting of contracts or letters sent to the legal team for review) and accept it’s not the legal team’s role to get everything perfect. We’ve both spent many an evening tidying up colleagues’ drafting which is generally not the best use of our time and has zero job satisfaction.
In addition, like all in-house teams we’re trying to improve resources for the business to help themselves (templates, training, guidance) and reduce the need for lower value, lower risk work to hit our desks.
What is the one piece of technology (either current or yet to be created) that would make your team’s job easier?
I get constant plugs and cold calls by those seeking to sell matter management systems. I’ve looked at a couple but they’re predominantly designed for larger teams (and I can see their value there) and I haven’t seen one that hits the mark for small teams – yet. Automation remains a potential area that we continue to explore, though other than employment agreements we do not have a lot of repeatable business justifying automation at this stage if there are good templates and systems in place.
How do you see the role of today’s in-house lawyer evolving?
Three thoughts spring to mind.
First, the role of technology and automation will continue to evolve and provide innovative solutions that should make our lives easier.
Second, the growth in, value of, and respect for in-house counsel continues. You’re seeing teams expand and larger teams can justify bringing specialised expertise in-house and embedded in the business rather than outsourced.
Third, slight counter to increased specialisation, the scope of the role (especially for GCs) continues to grow from the traditional legal “trusted advisor” to having a key role across risk management, governance, project management, strategy and commercial decision-making. We’re not just “lawyers” – and frankly, that variety is one of the biggest attractions of being in-house.