New Zealand Law Society - The Law & I - George Grainger

The Law & I - George Grainger

I’m an in-house legal counsel in the Legal & Risk team at Wellington City Council. I moved from Taranaki to study law, political science and international relations at Victoria University of Wellington between 2012 and 2017. I was admitted to the bar in July 2018.

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George Grainger
George Grainger

Why did you choose law and the area(s) of law you practise?

The law always seemed like the best fit for me. I think I liked the idea of helping people, solving problems and being pushed to reach a high standard.
The luckiest I’ve ever been was being given a chance at a legal role at Wellington City Council. WCC delivers around 450 services to the city every day and as a local government there’s a legal overlay to everything. At the moment the in-house team has 7 lawyers so we all do a bit of everything that comes along. Usually I’m doing building regulatory, debt recovery, litigation, general commercial, and construction.

If you were not working in law, what would be your alternative career be and why?

No idea. I almost joined the Navy after law school before being offered my job. I might have also practiced a bit harder and become a concert pianist. I’m driven by three personal values rather than a firm plan:

  • Work where I’m learning something I want to learn
  • Work with people I respect, and ideally admire
  • Work for a purpose I value and believe in.

What case or proceeding sticks most in your mind?

United States v Carroll Towing Co, in particular Judge Learned Hand’s formula for risk assessment was formational for me. The principal that, in short, a person is not under a duty to avoid a risk where the cost of avoidance outweighs the probability of harm occurring and the effects when it does. That formula acknowledges that risk can’t be eliminated entirely, so responsibility should be allocated fairly, if it is worth addressing at all. This is the underlying principle for what we do every single day.

What do you love about your job and why?

I can see my work change the city for the better. One of the first things I worked on at Council was a licence agreement for some lights to be fixed to a private building down a dark laneway. One night I came out of an establishment into a laneway that was lit up by a set of lights I had been part of getting installed. A tiny thing, but they’re often the ones that matter.

Is there anything you dislike about your work and why?

No. There are the parts I like, and there are difficulties to deal with, but I love it all.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing New Zealand lawyers?

I think fostering a human culture is a real challenge for the legal profession. Creating safety for people to bring their whole personality to work means that they can bring their natural empathy, individuality, interpersonal skills and creativity. That makes staff feel comfortable, while adding a layer of richness to the workplace and to the service lawyers deliver.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a lawyer?

Myself. With just over a year of practice experience, I’m constantly struggling to silence the voice of self-doubt. It’s easy to assume I don’t know how to do something and that if I try I’ll be bad at it. It can be really uncomfortable to give it a go anyway and to ask for help, but I think it’s the only way to improve.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given in relation to practising law?

Don’t worry about the law too much. Take on the problem using all the tools you have, but the law is just one.

Lawyers are often described as workaholics. Is that you? How do you switch off?

Absolutely I’m a workaholic. My idea of work/life balance is my personal phone in one pocket and my work phone in the other. I don’t really switch off, but I can leave my work devices on my desk and leave. It forces me to do other stuff.

Where is the most exotic place you have been to for a holiday? Tell us about it.

I spent some time in Matata on the East Coast last summer. It’s a tiny town, pretty much a dairy, a liquor store and a DOC campsite. It’s perfect.

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