Standing, L to R: Amanda Hopewell, EA to Chris Hall; Joycelyn Raffills, Special Counsel; Lauren Yeo, Senior Policy & Regulatory Compliance Officer; Samantha Barrington Prowse, Special Counsel;
Sitting, L to R: Liesbeth Koomen, General Counsel/Policy&Compliance/External Relations; Chris Hall, Group General Counsel; Cameron Pentecost, Senior Legal Counsel
New Plymouth team: Catherine Ongley, GM HR & General Counsel; Stuart Barraclough, Senior Legal Counsel; Katie Wyllie, Senior Legal Counsel (covering for Mikayla); Mikayla Zandstra, Legal Counsel (maternity leave, returning July)
Not in photo: Simon Inder, Senior Legal Counsel (starts 16 May), Maggie Kendall, EA Legal, Policy & Projects, Aimee Sandilands (Juno Legal).
Can you give us an overview of the legal function at Todd Corporation and how it supports the work of the Corporation?
Our team provides legal, compliance and external relations advice and support to the many and varied businesses within the Todd Corporation including our upstream and downstream energy businesses, our expanding solar business in New Zealand and the Pacific, investments in forestry for carbon farming and Todd Digital.
Aside from the business, our legal team supports Todd’s corporate functions: corporate development, finance, insurance, company secretariat, HR, health and safety and procurement.
We lead Todd’s engagement in the climate change policy space, which includes submissions and engagement with government and sector stakeholders, and the policy & compliance function for Todd worldwide.
The breadth, quality and variety of work is phenomenal. Our legal services range across commercial contracting, M&A, banking and financing, corporate governance, consumer protection, competition, regulatory matters (dealing with a variety of regulators including the Electricity Authority, Gas Industry Company, Commerce Commission and the Environmental Protection Authority), IT, HR, procurement, litigation (thankfully, this is far less frequent than a decade or so ago) and property. Although most of us cover a range of fields, each of us has particular areas of expertise. There are a few areas that we always outsource, in particular tax and RMA advice.
How does the legal team enhance its influence across the organisation?
Having a strong understanding of our clients’ needs is important to us. We have assigned client groups and regular engagement meetings with each of these groups where we discuss the prioritisation of their matters to ensure we get involved in a workstream as early as possible.
With as many as 140 matters open at any time, we plan and prioritise to spend time on the most important high value and high risk matters, helping the business to shape a transaction early, look through a strategic lens or ‘nip things in the bud’.
We regularly ask for client feedback to keep our finger on the pulse and enable continuous improvement. We know we are a well-regarded team by the hugely positive feedback we receive.
Last, legal sign off is required for most contracts through a robust process involving the business, legal and finance and governed by the Board’s delegation of authority. This ensures that all legal and commercial terms and risks are well understood and entered into on a fully transparent basis.
What are the key challenges facing the team and how are these being addressed?
One challenge for us is the constantly changing landscape of big projects with only a finite amount of resource to cover them. These projects are often in new areas, such as carbon farming, shareholder reinvestment plans or power purchase agreements for grid scale solar.
One of the ways we address this is by giving our team members the opportunity to upskill in areas where they would like to develop. We also use external law firms and secondees, such as from Juno, to help us deal with the peaks and to upskill.
What do you look for when recruiting new lawyers for the team?
Over and above excellent legal skills, we look for high adaptability, agility and strong multi-tasking skills to handle the huge variety of the work we do. The team has to swiftly switch from, say, doing regulatory work to external financing to a commercial negotiation. These all require different skills, and even a different language sometimes. Therefore, adaptability and flexibility are critical.
We also value lawyers who are comfortable with ambiguity and a fair amount of commercial legal risk. Often negotiations move at a pace and in settings that require trade-offs at a level that is commercially acceptable to the business.
Last, when recruiting, we look to bring diversity to the team, in terms of experience and approach. New ideas and solutions are often born when challenges are looked at through a different and sometimes thought-provoking lens.
Can you tell us about any innovations that have been rolled out to support the work of the legal team?
Over the last few years, we have launched and implemented a range of initiatives to work more effectively and efficiently. The most substantial and capital-intensive one is a legal matter management system, a tailor-made on-line repository to store and find emails, any type of legal document and template.
A year and a half ago, we asked Lawyers on Demand consultants to help us in understanding how we are tracking and provide us with a fresh and independent perspective, with industry benchmarks and data.
The findings from this review were a resounding endorsement, with strategy, people, processes and systems seen as ‘best in class’. But in keeping with the team being described as having a ‘clear, continuous improvement mindset’ we always look for better ways of serving our clients, as the business evolves.
One of the things we noticed since the review is that there are items on our wish-list that are nice to have, but not really worth spending significant time on. They wouldn’t move the dial much or improve the quality of our day-to-day work. Instead, we have been making incremental changes to improve our processes and simply tweaking what we had and using it more efficiently.
How has the team seen the role of the modern in-house lawyer changing in practice?
A trend for lawyers in-house that we have seen for a while is that our roles have become much more strategic and commercial in focus. Also, we can’t just be first rate professional legal advisors, we need to have excellent problem solving and social skills and really good judgement.
More broadly and like so many, we increasingly value flexibility, working from home, and being supported in a way that allows us to enjoy life outside of work without feeling stressed and exhausted. There’s more focus on mental wellbeing and understanding of the pressures that lawyers are under and that we ourselves can hold the key to ensure we don’t burn out. Every month we do something as a team. This often revolves around food but can also be an event (we went axe throwing the other day!), or a walk by the waterfront.
We recently profiled the team for our collective strengths, and one of the interesting things that came out of that was every single one of us was focussed on relationship building above anything else. It’s not just the clients that benefit from that, it is the support that we get from each other that makes it such a great place to work.