Can you tell us about life as the RocketLab lawyer and what a normal day for you involves?
Like most in-house roles, no two days are the same and that’s what makes being an in-house lawyer so challenging and fun. At Rocket Lab I have the privilege of working with some really passionate, grounded people who love what they do and strive to be the best. On the daily, I work across many different business functions supporting various teams, including supply chain and production who build our Electron rocket, and our R&D teams that work on top secret projects. However, it’s not the normal days at Rocket Lab that make my role so great, the really unique part of working at Rocket Lab is seeing how everyone’s hard work pays off when an Electron rocket enters the orbital atmosphere. After each successful launch you can’t help but be reminded how amazing Rocket Lab is and how innovative this industry is.
What is the biggest challenge in your role?
As Rocket Lab’s headquarters are based in the U.S., one of the biggest challenges I have faced is dealing with U.S. federal laws and regulations, such as the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) and Federal Acquisition Regulations (FARS) and their interplay with New Zealand laws and our business functions.
Being able to understand what these regulations mean for our suppliers is very important to effectively negotiate and provide assurances for both suppliers and the end customer. Getting my head around U.S. federal laws in relation to the space industry is definitely an on-going challenge for me.
How do you balance working in the business with working on the legal function as a sole counsel?
The legal function is relatively new at Rocket Lab even more so here in New Zealand, so initially my main focus was just about creating awareness in the business about my role, what I can offer the business and how to utilise the legal function. Now that everyone has an understanding of the legal support I can offer, I am able to focus on building and implementing legal and business processes that improve the efficiency and overall culture of the company. I am lucky enough to have great counterparts in the U.S. legal team so we have work together as much as we can to establish precedents and processes and make sure the two legal functions are aligned.
What is the one piece of technology (either current or yet to be created) that would make your day job easier?
I think good legal technology is so hard to find, given how subjective the advice in-house lawyers give is to the particular company you work for and their risk profile. Something I have come to notice in my time working in-house is the use of ticketing systems, mainly in IT teams.
I think something like this for an in-house legal team would create structure and transparency around timelines and track valuable data for understanding where a company’s legal resource is being used, without having to do 6 minute billing or entering the data in manually. The difficulty in this is finding the right system for your company that will integrate well with your current systems.
How do you see the role of the modern in-house lawyer evolving?
From my personal experience the role of the in-house lawyer has already started evolving from a purely legal function to a more strategic role within companies. In-house lawyers are more business focused and have the ability to see the bigger picture, providing that central link between the separate business functions. Business partners are now including in-house lawyers in the decision-making process more than ever, often seeking out their opinion outside the usual risk assessment. Being an in-house lawyer means you interact with and have the ability to influence every department so you can provide the stakeholders with information that may otherwise be overlooked. Adding to that, I think in-house legal teams are becoming the new normal and providing a career path to lawyers of all experience levels.