New Zealand Law Society - In-house environment is great: Catherine Zhu

In-house environment is great: Catherine Zhu

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By Elliot Sim

Catherine Zhu first worked for the New Zealand Defence Force as a civilian while studying at university and “basically harassed the legal team” until they gave her an internship, she says.

The 26-year-old says while working in Career Management for the Royal New Zealand Air Force, she later got a chance to work in the legal department.

“It turned out they were short on administration staff so I ended up working there, but not as lawyer. And then after I graduated (LLB and BA in International Relations at Victoria University in 2013), they were short on legal staff, so I had a really interesting opportunity. It was fascinating work.

“Before then I wasn’t really sure whether practising law was for me … I have just had the best management from senior lawyers during my career, so I was really keen to continue on preferably in-house … The in-house environment is great. The work day-to-day is hugely varied.”

Ms Zhu’s interest in in-house legal work led her to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) where she took up a position as a solicitor. She has now been there for six months.

Ms Zhu says she has been able to dabble in many different areas of the organisation and is currently managing litigation files, as well as assisting with rule making and providing legal advice in-house on the regulation of aviation participants.

“We get into details of rules and whenever there is an accident we consider with the other units whether there were failures, what went wrong and what could work better. It’s quite involved.”

She says the legal team is also drafting regulations for remotely piloted aircraft in response to the proliferation of drone use both nationally and world-wide.

“Drones are fascinating as they mark the biggest change in aviation in quite some time; the introduction of aircraft that don’t have pilots.

“For example, there was an article in a newspaper the other day about a building company that surveys building sites using a drone so that they could get an overhead view. The uses that people are finding for them are just so wide and they’re becoming so popular.”

As for the future, Ms Zhu says it’s too early to tell where she is headed in the legal profession, but says she is relishing the litigation work at the CAA.

“I’m really still getting used to the technical side of things here, so I’ve put up my hand for a few audits and to also learn about how a helicopter works and things such as that. I want to get a good grasp on those technical details as well as the lawyer side. The learning opportunities are great,” she says.

This article was also published in LawTalk 861, 27 March 2015, page 17.

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