Courtney Dick: To infinity and beyond as in-house counsel for Rocket Lab
Courtney Dick is the in-house counsel for Rocket Lab, the company responsible for launching satellites into space from Māhia on the East Coast.
I’ve been at Rocket Lab for just over two years. My role was the first legal role for the company based in New Zealand as we’d only had a legal function in the United States previously. The job has definitely scaled up massively in the last two years!
I support all areas of the business, from the teams in finance to software and R&D teams. I also manage the Intellectual Property portfolio across the US and NZ (of which there’s quite a bit due to our innvoative work), trademarking and patenting. It’s particularly interesting as we’re subject to a lot of U.S. legislation and regulations, including ITAR, EAR and FAR due to the company having a factory and our headquarters in California.
Day to day I work across a large volume of contracts, especially given we have thousands of suppliers and rely on a lot of different software. When I first started at Rocket Lab, one of the key projects I worked on was to get the majority of our suppliers on our standard terms and streamline our processes in colaboration with the US business, so that’s been a big job to ensure that I’m part of almost every transaction across all departments. I’ve kind of been my worst enemy through promoting the important role that I can play as a lawyer and establishing the legal function in the business and now I get a lot of requests for my guidance. I am working with areas of the business to be a bit more self sufficient.
Have you seen a rocket launch up-close?
I’ve seen 13 launches so far but they’ve all been from our Mission Control Centre in Auckand or via our amazing livestream (watch out for our next one coming up this month). I’ve not managed to get to Māhia yet to see a launch, although even when you’re onsite the closest human is at least three kilometres away.
But even watching from Auckland is pretty cool as you’re with all your colleagues and you can hear the communications taking place to make the launch happen right from Mission Control. I’ve definitely learnt a lot about rockets and engineering over the past couple of years and with all our amazing new projects, there is so much more learning to do everyday.
Have you always been an in-house lawyer?
After studying law at Waikato University I decided that I wanted to get admitted but not immediately work in private practice. I had a lot of friends who went to work in firms in Auckland and I just didn’t feel like that was for me at the time. Because I’d grown up in Waikato and gone to uni there I decided it was the right time to go out and grow up and see more of the world before settling down in NZ.
I went overseas to the UK to live in London, only knowing one person but I thought I would give it a try, espcially as it was very easy for me to get a British passport. I mus admit it was really challenging trying to break into the legal industry, not having worked as a lawyer in NZ first, but eventually I had a bit of luck with an Australian qualified lawyer who was recruiting for an in-house role at NBCUniversal. She understood my qualifications and took me on initially as a Contract Administrator. I then took on a paralegal role and eventually was effecively working as a junior lawyer in an international legal team.
When I returned to New Zealand I looked for in-house roles here and after a short stint at Auckland Council, ended up at Mediaworks, which made sense given my previous experience with a media network.
What do you like about being in-house?
I really love the variety of work that I get to do as in-house counsel. I’ve developed a real passion for the IP world, and more recently diving into patents has been fascinating. I also like the bredth of work I do across whole sets of industries, having worked across media and now manufacturing and R&D in an aerospace company, as well as the fact that I work across the whole organisation and interact with so many different people.
The in-house space is always changing – I find I’m always learning new things and you become a bit of an expert in your organisation given the central function that is legal! That does mean that it can be quite a challenge engaging external counsel as I have to teach them about our unique business, especially how different aeropace is to aviation. When I engage with external counsel I have to explain what work I’ve already done on a project and what we want to do next as to avoid duplicating work. Over the last two years I have ben able to build a network of amazing lawyers that have provided expert advice for me when I need it.
How have you found dealing with COVID-19 with your headquarters in America?
Rocket Lab currently has two lawyers in America. One has been in the office most of the last 12 months, and one has been at home for a year. Since the two businesses work so closely together we are used to relying on technology to communicate and keep things moving between the two countries which meant we were able to quickly adapt when COVID hit and not have too much interuption to how we work.
However in saying that staff used to spend a lot of time on flights between NZ and the US and now everyone has discovered we can do the same thing online as we can in person just as efficiently. But it will be nice to see colleagues in person again when all the restrictions lift!
You’ve had a bit of an unusual career path – what would your recommendations be to lawyers just starting out?
Be open to every opportunity – there aren’t many chances to break into the industry, especially in Auckland so put everything into each and every role and learn as much as you can. Keep developing and expanding your knoweldge and enjoy being part of a business, its great fun being surrounded by so many different people and departments. Oh, and don’t think being in-house means doing fewer hours or less work, its a tough job at times and I think that’s a huge misconception!
In the spare time you have what do you like to do?
I’ve been trying to be really good at going to boxing early in the morning. I am really enjoying it! I’m appreciating the opportunity to do this given we keep going in and out of lockdowns in Auckland. I sometimes play indoor netball although I did sprain my finger last time I played.
I also love catching up with my friends and family (especially my neice and nephew) and exploring New Zealand, particularly camping in the Coromandel.