More than 330 delegates gathered in Dunedin on 9 and 10 May for the 32nd annual ILANZ conference. The Edinburgh of the south showed its best side with balmy temperatures to greet delegates and a palpable sense of a vibrant city with plenty to offer visitors. In the words of our patron Sir Ian Barker, attendee of almost all 32 ILANZ conferences, “They do things so well in the South!”.
Many ILANZ delegates were returning alumni of the University of Otago. It seemed appropriate then to link “town and gown” with the Otago University Law School Dean, Jessica Palmer, welcoming delegates to Dunedin and representatives from law student groups, Te Roopū Whai Pūtake, SOULS (Society of Otago University Law Students) and the Pacific Island Law Students Association attending over the two days to gain an insight into in-house practice.
The conference theme “Te Tiro Iho A Te Manu –A Bird’s Eye View” not only paid a nod to the world’s only mainland breeding colony of royal albatross on the Otago Peninsula but also reflected the breadth of topics covered over the two days of conference.
The wingspan of the in-house lawyer spreads beyond legal opinion to the role of trusted adviser and strategic contributor. Like the mighty albatross, the in-house lawyer needs excellent navigational skills to ensure they achieve optimal results and stay out of, or at least are equipped to survive, choppy waters.
Economist Shamubeel Eaqub ensured delegates started their conference experience with some big picture thinking as he provided an insight into some of the issues facing New Zealand and the impact that economic and social forces will have on how we will work in the future. Encouraging delegates to adopt a new state of mind, Shamubeel urged us to be deliberate and opportunistic in our choices for the future.
The theme of being deliberate continued throughout the conference. In relation to effective engagement with Māori collectives, Tracey Peters and Kirsten Hagan urged us to undertake due diligence, embark on, or continue, our learning journey in relation to Te Ao Māori and never forget the power of reciprocity and the strength of connection or whanaungatanga.
GCs Tim Peacocke from Samsung and Andrew Cordner from Fonterra, urged delegates to take a measured approach in how to react “when you are the news”. Taking stock, transparency with the regulator, stakeholder engagement and making measured decisions and responses were some of their recommendations.
This theme of responsibility continued when Banking Ombudsman Nicola Sladden, and Helen Davidson, General Manager Legal and Policy at Engineering NZ, shared insights and experiences from the banking and engineering sectors and their own versions of “seismic events”. Nicola and Helen adeptly covered the benefits of using complaints as a strategic tool to identify risks and opportunities in a business and left delegates determined to take up Nicola’s challenge to “learn to love complaints”.
Speakers throughout the two days also reinforced the message to take opportunities. Grant Pritchard, ILANZ Committee member and a member of the Spark legal team, powerfully demonstrated this in his session on transforming mental health at work. Grant’s drive and passion to improve mental health in workplaces has been the catalyst for Spark’s workplace mental health programme and his compelling story and call to action reached the heart and mind of everyone in the room with the response being a well-deserved standing ovation and individual and collective commitment to making a difference for ourselves, our families and our workplaces.
Grabbing opportunities to add value also featured in a session with Hayley Evans from Wellington City Council on how to translate data into insights and added value for organisations.
Delegates were also urged to take the opportunity to thrive both at and outside work with clinical psychologist and efficiency coach Nicola Brown providing some strategies and tools to counter common obstacles.
Easy to identify but harder to execute “soft skills” were a feature of the session from Grevis Beard, a workplace consultant who specialises in team dynamics and tools to foster positive rather than destructive relationships in the workplace. His delivery left delegates gasping – with laughter – but also with some useful research and guidance on the steps necessary to create high performance workplaces.
Sitting in the driver’s seat
In addition to a number of presentations from in-house counsel, this year also saw the return of the “unconference” sessions – two hours set aside for delegates to mix with their in-house colleagues and discuss issues crowd sourced during the first day of conference. Top picks were:
- Managing regulatory and legal compliance. The challenges, the ways and the wins,
- Are in-house counsel the conscience of the organisation? If so, is that really your role?
- The legal team’s role in project management. Discuss.
- Should GCs be on the executive team? Would the title CLO mean more to the CFO, CEO or COO?
These themes also featured in the panel discussion on the preliminary results of the Deloitte/ILANZ in-house trends survey in addition to thoughts on how to get the most from in-house and external firm relationships and, a recurring theme, the importance of “soft” skills for in-house practitioners.
Over the next few months we will be sharing more insights from these and other conference sessions in the form of ILANZ President, Sian Wingate’s “Conference condensed” blog and the final report from the Deloitte/ILANZ in-house trends survey. Both of these will be available through the ILANZ website ilanz.org