Can you tell us about your role as General Counsel - RLD at Fletcher Building and what you love about it?

Working for a company delivering major projects, building communities and starting up new innovative businesses ensures that there is never a dull moment. It is also very motivating to be involved in development projects as you get to actually see the final built product; you feel a real sense of satisfaction that you helped to build a great new community, new plant or industrial hub.

I love the variety of work in my role and the fact that I get to work on property and consenting projects for a wide variety of divisions at Fletcher Building. Fletcher Building has given me great opportunities to be a senior leader in the organisation. In addition to being included in the Senior Leadership Team for the Residential and Development business, I also have a strategic role on its property councils, making decisions property wide for Fletcher Building’s extensive property portfolio across the New Zealand and Australian businesses.

I also have the privilege of working across a real variety of work from pure property transactions, joint ventures with key partners, construction contracts, consenting of major new projects and advising both our innovative panelised homes and new retirement businesses. I get to work with a group of people right across the Fletcher Building group from our talented property, environmental, development and design managers, to our marketing and stakeholder gurus.

The Residential and Development legal team is small but extremely effective! There are 4 of us in our all-female team. We pride ourselves on balancing our very busy working roles with our even busier roles outside the office as parents.

What do you do to build and enhance the influence of the in-house legal function across the organisation?

To enhance the influence of the in-house team, I actively seek out opportunities for my team to get in front of the business so they can build strong relationships and ensure that they understand the commercial and operational needs of the business. These strong relationships ensure that they can act as a strategic partner and are identified as problem solvers (and not roadblocks). We now find that the business will actively seek us out and involve us at the outset of projects. This is as they see the value in the legal team being involved in the strategic roadmap for projects, which is awesome.

I also encourage my team to not just focus on providing technically correct and timely legal advice. In order for the in-house legal team to be influential and successful within a business, my team members also need to make sure that they deliver clear, pragmatic advice which can be easily understood by their internal clients.

What have been your most recent challenges as General Counsel - RLD and how did you address these?

In past 12 to 24 months, we have started several new key divisions within the Residential and Development business including an apartments team, industrial land division, panelised home manufacturing business together with a unique new retirement product. While these are exciting times with all this growth, it has meant that in addition to dealing with our day jobs and all the Covid disruptions, the in-house team has had to engage closely with senior management to understand their needs and goals, how the legal team can best support them and prioritise the team’s work to meet these goals. In addition to the above, the flood of regulation coming through in the Resource Management, Climate Change and Building regulatory space has been challenging and puts extreme pressure on both the business and in-house team in identifying consequences of these changes on an already pressured building and construction market.

To deal with this increased workflow, we have had to think strategically about where our internal resources are best employed and where we can add the most value. It has also been key to clearly communicate this strategy to the business to ensure that we do not erode relationships. We have also employed a combination of different levers such as targeted external support, expanding the size of our team, enlisting support from the wider Fletcher Building legal team and business and setting up self-help options for the business.

What are some of the trends that you're seeing and how do you see the in-house legal profession evolving?

When I first started in-house 18 years ago, the role of the in-house was typically a strict legal role, often with the legal team just being the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff. It is great so see that the role of the in-house solicitor is no longer purely legal and it is now more widely recognised that in-house teams are very well placed to advise on strategy and risk mitigation. I have seen a real shift towards in-house solicitors becoming an integral part of senior leadership teams and helping to influence decision making.

While Covid has pleasingly driven flexibility in the workplace, my concern is that it has also led to the breakdown of the delineation between work and home. This shift has led to more staff feeling obliged to respond to email traffic outside of business hours as a trade-off for the flexibility of working from home. As employers and leaders, we need to actively encourage staff working from home to maintain clear boundaries around their working hours to ensure that flexibility does not in fact lead to burn out!