Can you give us an overview of the legal team at EnviroNZ and how you support the work of the company?
The legal team at EnviroNZ consists of 2 lawyers, Katharine Toomey (General Counsel) and Lucy Archer (Legal Counsel) and was established in March 2019. The legal team supports the business through various means such as creation of template documents for use across 4 main business units (45 sites across NZ), provision of advice on a diverse range of areas including contract interpretation, competition law, leases, acquisitions, environmental and health & safety management, negotiation of customer and supplier agreements including during the tender process, and dispute resolution. We also provide training to employees on competition law and fundamental contract principles.
What do you see as the key challenges facing the team and how do you plan to address these?
Given the internal legal function is still somewhat in its infancy we have had to actively encourage the business to engage with legal early on matters. If the legal team is engaged early in the project, commercial arrangement, tender response etc, it will circumvent questions and workload at the back end due to input being provided throughout the commercial process. In turn, this input aids transparent, fluid and efficient dealings between the business and its counterparties. This will continue to evolve over time but the provision of face to face training (where possible) and site visits has helped to establish the relationships with our internal customers. We are also looking to establish more regular interactions and develop good working relationships between the legal team and our internal customers, by attending their regular team meetings. Importantly, the business has been very supportive of the introduction of an internal legal function. In addition, the legal team are currently developing a page on the internal sharepoint site which will house the most to date precedent documents, company policies and relevant news/articles for the business to access quickly and easily.
Again, this will continue to evolve over time but given the legal function is in its early stages of creation, it is important to establish a good foundation of processes and procedures that manage how the business engages with legal and what support we can offer. We are continuously looking to identify improvements that will add value to the business in our role as a support function.
What do you do to build and enhance the influence of the in-house legal function across the organisation?
We find it critical to establish good working relationships with our internal customers. We believe trust, respect and support are key components to a successful working relationship between the business and the legal team. As mentioned above we do this by offering face to face training and site visits where possible. It even means getting into a truck and driving around with one of our incredible drivers for a few hours to understand how the business operates from the ground up. Being approachable also is very important, and having a keen (and genuine) interest in the business and the roles of the people who work for it helps to achieve this. The General Counsel is also part of the senior management team and as such has the ability to input into key strategic projects and obtain insight on how we can best support the business.
How do you encourage early engagement of the legal team to reduce workloads and sporadic urgent requests from the business?
Development of relationships with internal stakeholders and open communication is critical to early engagement. This is proactively encouraged by our executive team who are very supportive of the legal function. We also believe that empowering and educating the business to identify and understand risks themselves at the outset is important. This is evolutionary and should happen over time with encouragement and support from the legal team and through our contracts training.