Pictured (L-R): Elliot Foxall (Regulatory Manager); Chelsie Foley (Senior Legal Counsel and Company Secretary); Jess Little (Executive Legal Assistsant); Hiramai Rogers (Chief Legal & Regulatory Officer).

Can you give us an overview of the legal team at Tuatahi First Fibre and how you support the work of the business?

We’re a small in-house legal team managed by our Chief Legal & Regulatory Officer, with two senior lawyers who focus on governance, corporate and commercial and regulatory matters, supported by an executive legal assistant. We provide or facilitate legal advice on all areas of Tuatahi’s strategic growth, network operations and regulatory matters.

As Tuatahi has evolved, the role of our team has grown with it. We support 17 internal service lines in identifying and managing their specific legal risks. We do this by providing legal advice and support, creating tools and templates, training and collaborative engagements with our internal stakeholders.

We have invested a lot of our time and focus on proactively working with our colleagues to help them identify and manage legal risks early in the decision-making process. We also support the delivery of policies and processes to help staff progress BAU activities more effectively and efficiently, with appropriate and easy-to-apply controls to manage legal risks.

We have formed trusted relationships with our people to make sure they know we are here to support them and maintain regular engagements with them. Reducing the hesitancy to approach or deal with legal issues has been a significant improvement in the way in which our team works with the business. It helps that we are all friendly, approachable and hilarious too!

How does the team go about finding the right balance between managing risk and enabling the goals of the business?

Balancing risk while enabling the business to meet its goals is a challenge that all in-house teams face. We address this by working to understand the motivations and goals of the business and the context behind the query. By understanding what the business is trying to achieve, we can more effectively assess the real risk and identify any alternative solutions or workarounds where needed. Looking beyond the immediate legal question or query means our advice is thorough, practical and solution-focused. Our colleagues trust that we’re working with them toward a shared goal.

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

Our ability to understand both the big picture strategy and the detail is something that some businesses don’t appreciate or see our value in. People may only remember the advice or the result. The amount of detail and specific (technical, operational, etc.) concepts we need to understand to provide that advice is often overlooked (or undervalued).

We love the role we play, but the constant struggle to get people to appreciate the value we provide is still an unfortunate reality. To address this, we are proactive and intentional in our engagements with colleagues. We run a yearly check-in with all of our service lines to understand their priorities for the upcoming 12 months, reflect on our previous year’s engagement, and celebrate shared wins. We have standing meetings with other stakeholders (such as our Privacy, Risk and Health & Safety colleagues), and can almost always be found away from our desks, having a chat.

Being able to demonstrate the value we can add in such an approachable way means that teams don’t hesitate to engage with us early. For us to support them, they know it is important to maintain clear and consistent communication to build respect and let everyone understand and set (or reset) priorities as required. We publish a quarterly calendar to remind us (and let others know) how we are tracking. This helps us to work with people to confirm timeframes and gives us early notice of any need to engage externals.

What qualities make a good in-house lawyer?

As an in-house lawyer, having the ability to build and maintain positive relationships is crucial. The relationships you grow within your business will help you better understand the business, and, in turn, lead to you providing better, more robust legal advice. The relationships you form outside of the business (with other in-house counsel or external advisors) will give you support, provide a sounding board, and inspire new ideas.

Most of what we do in our job relies on communication and being able to effectively engage with a range of different people is essential. The law (and lawyers) can be mystifying. Having the ability to communicate difficult ideas and concepts in a clear and easy-to-understand way will earn you respect and trust and help build confidence and grow knowledge for our non-lawyer colleagues.

While it is important to have a solid commercial law base, it is equally as important to be able to think beyond the law. Both critical and creative problem-solving skills are valuable, as well as having strong business acumen.

Are there any changes or new technologies you are planning to roll out in the next 12 months and what’s the intended impact?

Excitingly, we’re in the process of scoping our biggest technology project to date.

At Tuatahi, we need to move fast to grow new fibre broadband connections. To enable this, we provide our colleagues with ‘self-service’ or user-led legal support. We’re currently looking to partner with legal technology to support our team in this work.

Over the past 12 months, we have used the technologies we have access to (and our very limited skills) to create a range of self-service and knowledge-sharing tools. These include flexible templates, contract review questionaries, pre-drafted clause banks, infographics or ‘Quick Guides’, interactive intranet spaces, FAQs, and online, on-demand learning tools. These resources are truly a ‘DIY’ job and their purpose is to help our colleagues quickly and confidently access low-risk legal advice, freeing up our team to focus on higher-risk matters. It was these achievements which were recognised when our Senior Legal Counsel (Chelsie Foley) was short-listed for the NZ Law Awards Young In-house Lawyer of the Year in 2022.

Looking to the next 12 months, we’re hoping to implement technology to support and improve our ‘self-service’ approach. We want a platform that gives our colleagues a seamless experience and greater confidence. We’re hoping to incorporate the tools we’ve created so far into a single platform which will manage the intake of matters, automatically create and manage contracts, and facilitate engagement and collaboration with business stakeholders.

We are proud of what we’ve managed to create so far; and excited to see what else we can achieve when we partner with legal tech.