Working with a “great team of smart people” is a real benefit of being in-house, says Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) legal counsel Tim Whiteley.
Originally from the United Kingdom, Mr Whiteley (LLB (Hons) Lancaster University) was living in London and working for a United States-owned mortgage lender when he decided to visit to New Zealand “to have a look” with his now wife Angela – whose work visa had expired. They “never went back” and now have two Kiwi-born kids, George (16) and Xanthe (18), and call Khandallah, Wellington, home.
Before joining DIA, Mr Whiteley was an in-house counsel with Contact Energy.
“Leaving Contact created an opportunity to think about my career options and direction. I hadn’t worked in the public sector before and it seemed logical to look at this area for a new challenge, especially when one lives in Wellington,” he says.
Mr Whiteley’s position at DIA is on the commercial side of the legal team, which has a strong focus on information technology. There is also a regulatory/public law part of the team, he says.
The DIA has an incredibly wide-ranging portfolio of responsibilities, and is the government’s lead agency for ICT activities which are co-ordinated by the Government Chief Information Officer (GCIO).
“The GCIO role is about transforming the way ICT is managed across Government, to support better public services for citizens. Given my interest and experience in the technology area in previous jobs this seemed a great combination.
Challenging and complex
“I’ve quickly found that the work the team’s doing, and has been doing for the last few years, is really challenging and complex; in terms of products and services, and the manner in which they are delivered.
“Fortunately, the team is great and really smart, so with their help I’ve been getting up to speed with what we’re dealing with and planning to do.”
Mr Whiteley says his work focuses on the DIA’s commercial operations, which keeps him busy writing contracts, reviewing terms, negotiating and interpreting – and helping staff to deal with other legal issues and questions concerning the Department’s operations.
As with private sector in-house lawyers, he says, he still has to do a fair share of researching, learning and liaising with external service providers.
“I’ve never worked in private practice so I can’t make direct comparisons to working in that environment. However, I think there more similarities between those who work in the different parts of the profession than people sometimes want to admit – albeit it’s clear that specific priorities and areas of interest may differ depending on which sector one’s in.
“I think in-house lawyers tend to be involved more closely and collaboratively in the day-to-day work of their clients – who are their work-mates. And they can see and be a part of the overall business context. In this way, they’re more directly connected to their clients and have a more direct and ongoing interest in outcomes.
Interests of all
“Private sector in-house lawyers have to understand the broader context, of course, but can probably be a bit more focused on their own organisation’s interests than public sector colleagues, where there is a focus on public service and broader interests of all New Zealanders.”
There are other differences between working in-house with the public sector and his experience with private companies, Mr Whiteley says, although overall the types of work and expectations are much the same.
“Essentially, there is an extra ‘layer’ that needs to be taken into account, which covers things like being a public servant, underlying policy, plans and protocols, public sector-specific legislation and rules, the position and requirements of other state agencies, the government procurement rules, official information and public records and privacy considerations,” he says.
“Another difference is in scale. Major government departments are big and complex organisations. We work closely and collaboratively with other public sector lawyers and organisations; we have access to Crown Law and the Government Legal Network, as well as a range of other specialist practice groups and networks.
“Private sector in-house lawyers have ILANZ of course, but don’t generally have such a broad level of collegial support, resources and facilities available to them, and, in New Zealand often work in small teams and for relatively small organisations or fairly autonomously from larger, offshore parent businesses.”
He says he suspects that both private and public sector in-house lawyers are equally affected by their underlying professional obligations, the increasing expectations of clients, and general pressures on budgets and resources.
“In all my jobs there have been strong drivers to get things done quickly, cost-effectively and simply. As we all know, complex transactions or activities don’t always result in those outcomes in practice, but I’d like to think I can use my corporate background to help the DIA get things done as effectively and efficiently as possible.”