Can you tell us about your role at Warren and Mahoney and what you love about it?
I love working for Warren and Mahoney because I am inspired by the work they do. Architecture and design influence our daily lives, and being part of this positive change is rewarding. The practice has strong values of sustainability and inclusive design, working closely with iwi in NZ and First Nations in Australia and the Pacific Islands. Founded in 1955, Warren and Mahoney is known for excellence in design. It’s a privilege to advise some of NZ’s best architects and designers, some of whom have shaped our cities’ skylines.
Like most in-house lawyers, I encounter a constant stream of work containing a variety of legal issues. Warren and Mahoney has over 300 staff across seven studios in NZ and Australia. This keeps my job interesting and challenging. Being an integrated part of the business means I have the benefit of understanding the strategic drivers and I have exposure to every part of the business. I love the autonomy in my role and the sense of purpose it gives me.
Warren and Mahoney has a culture that really suits me. We all work hard and we are passionate about what we do, but there is also a sense of playfulness and fun, so I feel I can bring my whole personality to work. You can always hear laughter coming from somewhere in the studio. People can bring their dogs to work, so I get in the odd therapeutic puppy pat here and there. The studio’s calendar is peppered with interesting seminars, diverse cultural celebrations, and other social events – I feel like there’s always something to look forward to.
I report to Grant Wilson, Chief Operations Officer of Warren and Mahoney and an experienced lawyer in his own right. Grant provides me with autonomy to run the legal function but is there to assist if I need it. I feel that sole counsel is a privileged position in any business, but it comes with a fair amount of pressure, so I’m grateful to have his support and expert guidance. It’s not always easy (in fact, it’s barely ever easy) but I love what I do and enjoy the people around me.
You have worked in diverse roles during your legal career. How have you found the change from larger legal teams to being the sole legal counsel?
Initially I was a bit worried about working mostly on my own. Anyone who knows me will know I’m an extrovert, so I crave social interaction. I do find parts of my job a little isolating at times, but only in the sense that I don’t have the luxury of discussing the academic legal details of my work with my colleagues, like I enjoyed doing in bigger teams. It’s otherwise a very social and supportive culture and I have some close friends at work, so I get lots of that social contact I need.
Being in a team was an ideal environment for me to learn from some impressive legal minds at the start of my in-house legal career, both at Fonterra and Vector. Being sole counsel has been a step up in terms of responsibility and autonomy, which overall has been a positive change for me.
What is your biggest challenge and how are you tackling it?
An important part of my role is to train architects to make sure they are competent in legal risk. I help them to understand that negotiating the contract is essential to get matters aligned from the outset. A significant part of my role is to ensure that we are well prepared for the unlikely scenario of “when good times go bad”. I have to encourage this way of thinking with motivated and talented architects who are passionate about creating buildings. They also play an important role in negotiating the contract terms and hold the client relationship, so I have to influence that. One way of tackling this is ensuring that the architects/designers feel in control of contract-related decisions – to do this I spend time teaching them about contract risk and legal interpretation.
How do you see the relevance and role of the in-house lawyer evolving?
It is no longer the case that only major international companies and Government entities hire in-house lawyers, and I expect this trend of our growing popularity will continue.
Medium-sized businesses will increasingly see the value in hiring in-house lawyers. In-house lawyers quickly become specialists in that they thoroughly understand the ins and outs of the business, and the risk profile of that specific industry. A good in-house lawyer will have adaptable legal skills and can see where the “red flags” lie so that expert legal advice is engaged where essential, and major legal risks are not overlooked.
At the risk of generalising, we lawyers are taught to be analytical and challenge assumptions, which I consider makes us an asset to strategic discussions, crisis management and commercial problem solving. I think in-house lawyers will increasingly be seen by their colleagues (and the wider market) as more than a purely “legal” resource.