The novelty of being back in a dynamic conference environment meant delegates turned up to the daytime learning sessions and the evening networking sessions highly energised and engaged. The opening speaker Megan Main was a conference highlight as she took us through her challenging role as Deputy Chief Executive of Managed Isolation and Quarantine with refreshing candour and an unfailing sense of the spirit of public service. In a world that encourages us all to embrace failure and learn from our mistakes, it became clear that New Zealand has not had much patience for either throughout the past 18 months and this has taken a toll on the people working hard to keep us safe. Opening Day 2, Tania Te Whenua challenged delegates to embrace Te Tiriti o Waitangi from the perspective of Maori following the principles of partnership, participation, protection and prosperity as she deftly wove her presentation with korero and waiata. Closing the conference on the 2nd day, Jehan Casinader took us through his real life struggles as a successful journallist who behind the scenes was going through a mental health crisis. He urged the audience to write their own life stories and to ensure those stories didn't end prematurely.  

In amongst these ‘real world’ speakers were a wealth of in-house lawyers sharing their expertise and their wisdom. From General Counsel of Google Fibre Fleur Knowsley leading two solo sessions – one on improving diversity and inclusion in the legal profession and another on giving real time feedback – to Alison Whitney, General Counsel at NZME talking about protecting your brand on-line and Herman Visagie from TSB Bank and Kirsten Patterson from IOD on how board operations have flexed to function through uncertain times. 

Ethical practice was a key focus with Bram van Melle from Auckland Council exploring good lawyering in in-house practice and James Warren from Dentons Kensington Swan exploring the role of in-house lawyers as ethical leaders. The challenges of managing Covid19 and lockdown cast a long shadow and lawyers from significantly impacted organisations including Air New Zealand, Foodstuffs, Ministry of Health, Fonterra, Fisher & Paykel Healthcare and Airways gave honest and open accounts of how they had evolved and were continuing to evolve their legal function to manage. 

Several delegates commented that following lockdown and the blurring of professional and personal boundaries, speakers and other delegates were much more open to sharing their challenges and vulnerabilities. This was underscored by ILANZ President Grant Pritchard and his impassioned address talking about his work as a mental health champion throughout the legal and business communities and the very real need for us to take a fresh look at how we improve mental health at work. 

In the words of one speaker, in-house lawyers have been quietly helping Aotearoa New Zealand get through and this year’s ILANZ conference created a real sense of pride and collegiality that our profession has played such a pivotal role. 

The conference ended with a gala dinner and awards ceremony and we congratulate all nominees, finalists and award winners for their incredible achievements. Click here to see a full list of finalists and winners.