By Frank Neill
Lawyering is a “special profession to be involved in. It is a real privilege,” says Grant Pritchard, the new President of the In-House Lawyers Association of New Zealand (ILANZ).
A legal business partner and workplace mental health advocate at Spark New Zealand, Grant loves the dynamic and challenging nature of in-house legal practice.
“At Spark I have the chance to help change the way New Zealanders live, work and play.”
He tells me, that as a customer legal business partner, his role is to deliver commercially-focused legal advice to support better decision-making and business outcomes.
“Our advice and support helps ensure the company can continue to deliver and grow in a sustainable way whilst meeting its legal obligations.”
Grant has held a number of senior legal and commercial roles since joining Spark in 2015. His current role involves supporting Spark's customer-facing business activities, including product development, marketing, customer contracts and strategic projects.
Discovering the law
Growing up, he didn’t dream of becoming a lawyer. But his strong English grades and interest in problem solving led to him enrolling in law at the University of Waikato. He studied law, commerce and computer science, but discovered a passion for the law.
“My gaze kept coming back to the law. Being able to use my skills and experience to solve problems and help people, I really love that.”
The power of following up
After graduating, Grant almost ended up doing a tech start-up rather than starting a career in law. He applied for positions, interviewed well but didn't get a single offer for a graduate role. “I felt dejected – like I was becoming great at coming second,” he says.
“I was about ready to give up and take a different career path, but decided to follow up with the only firm I still hadn’t heard back from.” That’s the firm now known as Dentons Kensington Swan.
They offered him a summer clerk role, and a career in the law became a reality.
“It was a pivotal moment for me, and when I got there I absolutely loved it.
“I will always have a special place in my heart for the firm, and the Wellington office in particular. The culture within the office was something special – an environment of inclusion, trust and strength.
“I think that’s a really powerful thing for a young lawyer. Finding work where you can belong and grow into your skin is just so important.”
The path to in-house
After being with the firm for several years, he got “itchy feet” and headed to Melbourne to join the firm now known as King & Wood Mallesons. The firm then sent him on a secondment to Telstra (which he describes as "Australia's Spark").
“That’s where I really stretched my wings as a lawyer. I found my place in the in-house environment.”
After six years with Telstra, Grant returned to New Zealand to join the Spark team.
ILANZ: by and for in-house lawyers
Since being appointed President of ILANZ, Grant has been struck by both the breadth of in-house practice and the generosity of in-house lawyers and teams.
He's seen in-house teams coming together to share insights and experiences – most recently, hearing from Nokia's in-house lawyers and technology futurists in a session that was open to all ILANZ members.
This is something Grant would like to see more of.
"When we come together to share what's working and learn from each other, we can break through that Kiwi 'do it ourselves' mentality and avoid reinventing the wheel.”
Grant is excited about the future of ILANZ and is looking forward to working with the new ILANZ committee to deliver initiatives that create a stronger in-house community.
“I can't wait to roll up my sleeves and work with the committee to develop our revised strategy and see how we're going to connect, support and lead our members over the next two years.
“This is a good time to be an in-house lawyer; to be an ILANZ member."
Lawyers have mental health challenges too
One of Grant’s other passions is mental health. After losing a workmate and fellow in-house lawyer to depression and suicide in Australia, he became a staunch advocate for workplace mental health and a champion for change in this area.
This led to him helping lead Spark’s vision and strategy for workplace mental health. Grant, and a small team of volunteers, developed a grassroots mental health movement which has evolved into a company-wide mental health initiative, aimed at delivering better mental health outcomes for Spark people.
"We all have mental health. Lawyers have mental health too.
“Most of us will either be impacted by mental ill health at some point or we'll know someone who is."
He highlights the range of factors for lawyers and the profession that can contribute to poor mental health.
"We have a responsibility as individual lawyers and legal teams to learn more about mental health, smash the stigma, get help early and be there for our workmates.”