New Zealand Law Society - Being in-house was more "me": Dave Whiteridge

Being in-house was more "me": Dave Whiteridge

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"There's always a lot happening at the Transport Agency, which makes it such a cool place to work," New Zealand Transport Agency Chief Legal Counsel Dave Whiteridge says.

Mr Whiteridge says he and his legal team are tantalisingly close to a highly political transfer of ownership of a toll road to the Transport Agency from the Tauranga City Council. But more on that later …

Upon graduating from Victoria University in 1996, he did what most graduates do and headed for private practice in which he did six years. Bell Gully in Wellington was his first gig doing general commercial work as well as working for iwi on a number of Treaty of Waitangi claims.

Mr Whiteridge then went on his OE to London, picking up work with Baker & McKenzie then returned to New Zealand to take a role with Minter Ellison Rudd Watts in 2002. He spent a year in the corporate finance team and also had two separate secondments with the Bank of New Zealand.

"During that time I decided that in-house was more 'me' … I think it's that classic difference between in-house and private; just being a lot closer to the people you're working for. It gives you a better understanding of who the people are in the business and learning how they operate and how to pitch to them," Mr Whiteridge says.

His time at the BNZ felt more fulfilling for Mr Whiteridge, even though he had to work just as hard on secondment as when he was back at his desk at Minter Ellison.

In 2003 Transpower was the next stop. For three years he worked as corporate counsel doing corporate finance, regulatory and general commercial work.

In 2006 Mr Whiteridge started in his current role as Chief Legal Counsel for the Transport Agency.

Mr Whiteridge has recently returned from shared parental leave where he worked one day a week for four months to look after his sixth child. His wife was then able to carry on with her career four days a week.

He would go in one day a week to keep in touch and participate in wider Transport Agency work.

"Ultimately it worked well for everyone. I was still on the payroll and able to take calls and do a few hours – mainly helping to provide continuity on some existing projects I was involved in. But then I could go home at the end of that day, pretty much forget about work and just enjoy being a dad."

Mr Whiteridge says he has two key priorities: leading his legal services team as well as helping to collectively lead the Organisational Support group.

"I don't do a lot of law these days. Most of the legal side of the job is leading the team and making sure they've got the right environment to be able to perform really well. But I do get involved in operational matters occasionally – generally when it is something bigger and chunkier, where I'm supporting one of my team to get it across the line.

"I'm also part of the group leadership team for Organisational Support, which enables me to get involved in a lot of non-legal (as opposed to illegal) initiatives, such as helping the group to partner better with our internal customers and working on ways to monitor and improve our overall performance."

Mr Whiteridge's legal services team is made up of two legal advisory teams of four lawyers each providing legal advice. One provides advice mainly on planning, construction and network operation matters while the other mainly focuses on the regulatory and commercial side of the Transport Agency.

There is also a team that manages the production and drafting of various Land Transport Rules (such as rules around children's car seats or how dangerous goods are carried on our roads). The fourth team is the adjudications team, which has an important public safety role in ensuring transport companies and taxi drivers are up to scratch.

"A lot of issues pop up when we're building, operating and improving such a large network, particularly in rolling out new technology such as tolling systems."

Mr Whiteridge says the Transport Agency will soon be opening two new toll roads (noted earlier in this article), one of which required an ownership transfer which should be completed by 1 July this year.

"The Tauranga City Council was already running a toll road and the Transport Agency was rolling out a more modern system, which was going to be introduced with the Tauranga Eastern Link project. It was already in operation for the northern gateway project (north of Auckland), plus it enabled the Transport Agency to integrate that particular section of road which was owned by the city into our state highway network.

"We now have a much more integrated road network in the region which will provide a much better customer experience," Mr Whiteridge says.

Other big projects include Ara Tūhono - Pūhoi to Wellsford (to improve SH1 between Pūhoi and Wellsford in the Northland region), and the Auckland Unitary Plan.

Looking further down the road, Mr Whiteridge says he and his legal team want to continue to "operate in a collaborative and integrated way with a core panel of external providers, in order to provide robust legal advice that represents value for money for the Transport Agency".

"So, for example, on the big projects, we usually outsource the bulk of the work but stay involved in helping to co-ordinate the interaction with the business and on issues that really have a whole-of-agency focus."

It's about maintaining that close, collaborative co-sourcing arrangement, Mr Whiteridge says.

"It's making sure that we continue to support the Transport Agency to be successful by maintaining the core skills and capability needed but then being able to quickly supplement those skills from our panel when required; be it complex IT procurements or really intensive public works act litigation, for example."

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