Chief Legal Advisor Chantelle Stroud (left) and Legal Counsel Helena Page (right) pictured in accidentally coordinating outfits in shades of Callaghan Innovation green.

Can you give us an overview of the legal team at Callaghan Innovation and how you support the work of agency?

Callaghan Innovation is New Zealand's Innovation Agency, established under the Callaghan Innovation Act in 2012, and a crown agent under the Crown Entities Act. We activate innovation and help businesses grow faster for a better New Zealand. Callaghan Innovation’s In-house Legal team consists of two lawyers who service approx. 550 employees/contractors, including over 200 of New Zealand’s leading scientists and engineers at our Gracefield Innovation Quarter (GIQ). Our people empower innovators by connecting people, opportunities and networks as well as providing tailored technical solutions, skills and capability development programmes and grants co-funding. Being New Zealand’s Innovation Agency, we get exposed to some pretty amazing technology. For example, a visit to GIQ can take you to the clock that implements New Zealand standard time, a machine that can tell whether champagne is from Champagne or Marlborough or to the anechoic chamber (a room with no sound, where you can hear your own blood flowing!).

As the front door to the innovation system for businesses of all sizes and at all stages of their innovation journey (from start-ups to experienced R&D performers), we advise on a very diverse legal landscape, including:

  • research and development (R&D) services, which include a significant focus on IP, commercial and contract law;
  • Grants and Research Development Tax Incentive products, which include negotiating government MOUs, drafting contracts and even a working knowledge of the Tax Administration Act;
  • construction (with a large part of GIQ under construction at the moment) and property law (leases and licences);
  • health, safety, risk and compliance;
  • security, privacy and employment law;
  • procurement and contract law and contract management & automation;
  • banking, finance and insurance;
  • government regulation (OIAs) and corporate governance including management of the Food Innovation Network subsidiaries, and the Measurement Standards Laboratory;
  • and pretty much everything else in between!

Callaghan Innovation’s Legal team historically only ever consisted of one lawyer. When Chantelle Stroud joined in late 2020, as its new Chief Legal Advisor, she grew the team to two with Helena Page joining as Legal Counsel in September 2021. Both Chantelle and Helena stepped into their roles directly from the private sector, requiring a fast upskill in the machinery of government and related laws, but bringing a stronger commercial focus to one of NZ’s most commercial crown entities.

We support our agency and our people in varied ways. Often it is on-the-spot legal advice, typical of working in an agile organisation (which Callaghan Innovation recently became under Vic Crone’s leadership). This usually means we attend “stand-ups'' and “sprints” where required and jump on a “Google Meet” at short notice to provide advice. While working this way could be tricky to manage our workloads, we block time out in our calendars for “the actual work” and hold priority conversations regularly. We split up the different legal work associated with our organisational functions between the two of us, ensuring that each of us is provided with leadership opportunities and the ability to develop practice area expertise while fostering meaningful relationships with our colleagues.

Being a lean team of two, communication is essential. We find it useful to be on site at both our Wellington locations, given we are Wellington based, to connect and banter with our colleagues, while also working from home when we want to ensure our wellness/personal needs are taken care of.

How does the team find the right balance between managing risk and enabling the business’ goals?

The absolute last thing we want to be considered is “red tape” or the department of “no” and this is always at the front of our mind. We see ourselves as enablers, and that means we find ourselves having to be nimble and think outside of the box - after all, we do work at NZ’s Innovation Agency! We often find some of our solutions may not even be strictly legal in nature.

Getting involved in projects and pieces of work as early as possible very much decreases risk and ultimately can shape the path of the project or piece of work we are involved in - we’ve both been actively encouraging early involvement since we joined Callaghan Innovation, by building relationships, especially at Executive, CE and board level, and too we instil a “no blame culture” where no question to Legal is a stupid one.

We also assess the risk profile of the work at the outset and deliver our legal “perfection-level” accordingly i.e. oftentimes 80/20 (not sure if we should say 70/30…!) is enough. Ultimately, we acknowledge Legal is typically one part of a decision-making process, alongside, for example, commercial, reputational and finance considerations, and we’re conscious of this when delivering our advice. Likely due to our commercial backgrounds, we’re often supporting the organisation with non-legal advice and support, to help join the dots in a conceptual manner.

At Callaghan Innovation, we are encouraged to be T-shaped, and we take this a step further to be “O” shaped lawyers. O shaped lawyers are well rounded, using their technical skills (not just purely legal skills) to present opportunities to, and be a trusted partner for the organisation.

Callaghan Innovation are a strategic partner to Techweek22, can you tell us any innovations the legal team is using, or planning to use, to support the productivity of the team?

Yes, we’re excited to be a strategic partner to Techweek22 again this year. Callaghan Innovation has run events on our industry 4.0 showcase, 10 types of innovation you can implement to help your business succeed, and a focus on our Iwi Data Discovery project. The Government have also just announced two new grants products that will be available later this year through Callaghan Innovation.

On the legal front, we are actively working towards the following innovations we are planning to (or already) use:

  • we are working with LawHawk and MBIE to revamp Callaghan Innovation’s contract lifecycle management to provide a seamless end to end contracting experience and increase efficiencies by automating our key templates (NDAs, GMCs, MSAs etc);
  • we are working smarter not harder by making good use of GoogleSuite technology and other tools (Trello, LucidChart, Miro and Jira) available to us;
  • we are embedding Legal into the organisation by supporting the agency through innovative solutions to legal work streams including online “how to” tutorials and quick guides, an a series of interactive engagement guides to help provide a clear structure of how our team of two operates, escalates risks and works with the organisation;
  • we have partnered with Juno Legal to undertake a ‘deep dive’ discovery into our records storage and archiving to create better processes and better compliance with legal record keeping obligations – this work will assist with efficiencies in adhering to other legislation we are subject to, such as the Official Information Act.

What do you see as the key challenges facing the team and how do you plan to address these?

Our team’s challenges are probably familiar to many of our in-house colleagues. We are a team of two, with a small external budget, and we continue to operate under trying circumstances such as the ongoing challenges COVID-19 present, GIQ being partially under construction, earthquake prone buildings and organisational redesigns. Being a small team, Chantelle, our Chief Legal Advisor swings between managerial and strategic work and being “down in the legal weeds”, which can be challenging. There never feels like there is enough time!

However, we think it is our synergy, which is rarely found in the workplace, that enables us to deliver an extremely diverse range and large volume of legal services to a high standard. Since starting at Callaghan Innovation, we have dedicated real time and effort to forming solid and trusted relationships. These relationships span the CE and executive, to all team members across the organisation, and with our external legal providers who, at times, feel like an extension of our team.

We think using technology in a clever way has enabled Callaghan Innovation to achieve excellent legal outcomes on complex legal matters, despite resource challenges. Working with scientists and engineers is a large and exciting part of our role and although we work in very different ways, Legal enjoys leaning in and learning from them (with the result being that our legal work is far more enriching and fit for purpose when we do so!)

Lastly, we do think it is perhaps an ongoing challenge of many in-house teams to continuously justify their resourcing requirements, and too, to be seen and heard at senior leadership level. We proactively sought out a position for Legal on Callaghan Innovation’s senior leadership team and work very closely and regularly with our Executive, to ensure that we are across legal risk and can proactively manage legal matters for better outcomes.

Despite the challenges, we really love the work we do, which helps. Callaghan Innovation is a fascinating place to work, and with such a unique legal landscape, no two days are the same. The work is stimulating and rewarding, which goes a long way towards making our hard work and navigating the challenges really worth it.