Team overview NZ Carbon Farming Group
NZCF legal team (L-R from back to front) – Lia Weatherall (Corporate Counsel), Nick Cross (Juno Lawyer), Emma Warner-Reeves (Senior Corporate Counsel), Tayla Westman (Corporate Counsel and Environmental Planner). Absent: Chris Linwood (Head of Legal). Photo credit: Ruth Mclean.

Could you provide a brief overview New Zealand Carbon Farming Group, the legal team, and the role the team plays within the organisation?

The New Zealand Carbon Farming Group is one of the largest contributors to New Zealand’s climate change response. Our mission is to grow trees to preserve the planet for future generations. We do this using fast-growing exotic trees as a protective nurse crop for the establishment of native trees, with the aim of creating permanent indigenous and biodiverse native environments over the long term, while maximising carbon sequestration in the short term and obtaining credits through New Zealand’s Emissions Trading Scheme.   

Our in-house legal team comprises Chris Linwood (Head of Legal), Emma Warner-Reeves (Senior Corporate Counsel), Lia Weatherall (Corporate Counsel) and Tayla Westman (Corporate Counsel and Environmental Planner). We have also had valuable assistance from Juno lawyer Nick Cross over the last two years.   

We handle a large variety of projects, from your typical legal matters (property acquisitions and leases, commercial contracts, corporate governance, financing arrangements, strategic projects and land use compliance, etc) through to the not-so-typical (we manage a large subdivision and selldown portfolio – over 95% of our estate is made up of marginal land (LUC6 and over). Any better land is subdivided and sold back to the community). We also take an active part in contributing to the development of organisational culture. Our team works closely alongside all teams within the organisation, which often allows us to connect the dots across multiple activities and roles. We aim to be an approachable and dynamic team that contributes to the organisation’s goals from both a legal and commercial perspective.  

In-house legal are known to 'put out fires before they begin'. How does an in-house team mitigate and foresee risk before it arises?  

We think this comes down to the following inter-related factors:  

  • Ensuring that the organisation has the trust and respect in you to include you as part of the conversation from the word go.  

  • The legal team knowing and understanding the organisation and its strategy well enough to not only be able to anticipate and identify potential issues, but also provide workable solutions which manage and mitigate risk to an appropriate level.   

  • Having a commercial and business mindset rather than just being ‘the lawyer’ in the room. 

What qualities do you value most when recruiting new members for your team?  

This is quite a timely question as, due to an internal promotion and continued strong workflows, we are currently on the look-out for an additional Corporate Counsel to complete our team (so if any readers are interested, please get in touch).  

We value the qualities most organisations look for (personable, professional, agile, team player etc) but the nature of our organisation means we also value passionate and highly skilled people who are wanting to make a meaningful difference to the global climate crisis and like the idea of going to work and applying themselves to directly help the environment. The only other thing to add is that with being a small team, all team members have to be willing to carry out any task – no job is too small for anyone, but we feel this is more than off-set by the abundance of exciting and challenging work that comes across our desks daily.  

What challenges are you anticipating, and how is your team preparing to meet them?  

Our organisation operates in a highly complex and constantly evolving regulatory environment. This provides numerous challenges to not only the legal team but all parts of the organisation, requiring us to be dynamic and respond quickly to both regulatory change and new business opportunities. We are also an organisation that has grown quite quickly over a relatively short period of time, and intends to grow further in the future to meet the evolving environmental crisis, so this also presents challenges.  

Staying on top of proposed regulatory change is therefore essential for us, as is then ensuring any resulting regulatory change is understood by the organisation and factored into decision making and operations. Therefore, training and education of our team and the wider organisation is a big and ongoing priority. Being adaptable, having an open mindset to any suggestion or issue, and ensuring that communications with the legal team are simple and straight-forward will also assist with future challenges. As will the provision of self-help tools, such as templates and guides.  

Are there any innovations or technologies you have introduced or planning to introduce soon?   

We are in the process of implementing a new contract management system called LawVu. We have a high volume of highly complex contractual arrangements in place and LawVu provides a central contract storage repository and a function for managing key contract dates. This allows us to be proactive with the management of our contractual obligations as an organisation.  

We are also exploring the use of AI and contract automation, which will also assist with the growth challenge referred to above.