Being in-house counsel for a company which began as recently as August last year is great, says Nikki Bloomfield.
Ms Bloomfield works for electricity retailer Flick Electric Co, taking up the role in February when the company’s customers numbered in the hundreds. By October, Flick had just ticked over the 5,000 customer mark.
“I’m really enjoying it,” she says. “It’s as much about business growth as it is about legal assistance. I’m learning an awful lot about how to start a business, which is great – learning by doing, I suppose.”
Her work does include lawyering. “There’s a lot of contracts that you have to take care of in the energy sector – network contracts and metering and then there are the normal business contracts, like employment.
“As well as that, there are the general governance issues that you are involved in when you are in business. I do the company secretarial role as well, so there’s a lot of investor relations and managing the board and the Companies Act requirements.
“And I am probably more involved in the early stage strategy and design work that ordinarily lawyers wouldn’t see until that work is done. That is interesting.
“In-house work is general practice really, but in a start-up it’s even broader. It’s great,” Ms Bloomfield says.
After studying law at Otago University, Ms Bloomfield has now been in practice for about 15 years. As a junior, she worked in law firms for a number of years before going in-house, which has comprised the big majority of her career.
When she began with Flick earlier this year, it was not an entirely new field for her. “Strangely, I’ve been in the electricity sector for something like eight years now.
“I was with Meridian Energy for quite a number of years and then with Powershop, which is a Meridian subsidiary. That was after I came back from having my first child. Then after having my second child I came to work for Flick.
“It’s quite a different environment from working in a large corporate. Being small and a start-up, you get a full appreciation of all of the aspects of the business.
“It’s not just the small window of the legal work that you are seeing. You are seeing all the way across the business, which I’m finding really enjoyable.
“I guess all lawyers have this aim – we want to help business succeed. On the flip side, we want to help make sure it doesn’t fail.
“I’m really keen to support these guys as they build the business and get really out there. I think it is really gutsy these guys starting up an electricity retail business. It is heavily compliance based and it’s a really technical sector.
“It was a bold move of them to start from scratch and build their own platform and I am really pleased to be helping them out.
“A number of the founders were colleagues of mine from Meridian. I’ve known them for quite a few years, so I was very happy to come across and work with them here.
Celebrating business success
“Business success is probably something we don’t celebrate enough in New Zealand. We talk about sport a lot, and success in other areas, but business success is great and I think it is something that lawyers can really help with.”
Before Flick began operating, only commercial customers had access to wholesale electric power prices. Flick has made wholesale prices available to residential customers. That can mean savings of hundreds of dollars for its customers “which is really worthwhile,” Ms Bloomfield says.
The energy sector is an industry that’s always in change. “When I was with Meridian, there was a lot going on in the generation side, so it was big wind farms being built and hydro schemes being investigated. With demand coming down, the focus really has shifted more to the consumer end of the electricity sector. That’s where we’re seeing a bit more innovation and some new players.
“It’s becoming more digital and more customer-focused, which is great.”
The energy sector has attracted a lot of attention in that it has not performed well for customers. Despite a lot of great projects built, that has not flowed through into solutions for customers, nor into good prices for consumers either.
“It is nice to be part of becoming more customer-focused,” Ms Bloomfield says.
“I never would have thought, when I was a graduate, that I would be so enthusiastic about the energy sector. I really love it. Also, I think it’s nice to work for a company that’s really well thought of.”
As well as the compliance work, contracts and general legal work, there have been a number of other areas Ms Bloomfield has been involved in.
One has been with the process and the audits leading to becoming a Consumer Trusted Brand with Consumer New Zealand.
“It was a great endorsement to get that. For such a young company – we have really only been in the market for just over a year – we are seeing great growth and undertaking some processes that aren’t usual for a company at this stage.”
Another has been the ISO certification process, which is important and, indeed, necessary, in the sector to ensure that the company is doing things properly.
“Another big piece of work, and it is interesting, is the capital raising that we are doing. The company went out for investment in December and January and got a great round of capital, and we are in the process of evaluating further investment, which is proving really interesting.
“It’s nice to be part of something that’s growing and proving itself and that other people want to be part of as well.”
Ms Bloomfield also finds it interesting to be working with a group of people, many of whom come from entrepreneurial backgrounds. “It’s a completely different mind-set to lawyers. They’re all about growth – trying something and if it fails, it fails. That’s an uncomfortable position for lawyers. Failure makes your mouth go dry and you feel a bit sick.”
One thing she has found very helpful in her job is the great help provided by external lawyers and a couple of Wellington firms in particular have provided her and Flick great assistance “that allows me the flexibility to do this job”.
With work and two young children, Ms Bloomfield says, “life is busy with growing a business and growing a family.
“I love Wellington. It’s where I’ve been for 12 years. We have got good friends here. We love making the most of Wellington. We love the restaurants and going hiking and getting round to the south coast.
“I do feel privileged that I can work in a flexible way in a job that’s really interesting. That allows me time for both aspects of my life, personal and professional.
“At this stage of my life I just could not do a job that required massive hours every day,” she says.