The largest collection of in-house lawyers in the country sits within the public service, presenting considerable opportunities when it comes to working together.
Under the leadership of Una Jagose QC, the Solicitor-General, the Government Legal Network (GLN) offers a shared pathway of legal expertise, professional development and service to the Crown and New Zealanders.
Katie Elkin, Deputy Chief Executive, System Leadership at the Crown Law Office sums it up well:
“The GLN exists to ensure that the legal services to Government are as good and as effective and efficient as possible and operate in a cohesive way, to enable the Government to manage its legal risk and pursue its objectives lawfully.”
The GLN includes every government lawyer – that’s any lawyer working in any of the 32 core public service departments, plus NZ Police, NZ Defence Force and the Parliamentary Counsel Office. In total that’s a network of around 850 lawyers. Crown entity lawyers can also access some GLN resources and take part in some GLN activities, adding another 400 to the network.
This year marks ten years since the establishment of the GLN. Over that decade the GLN has evolved markedly. Key to that development has been the efforts of the Chief Legal Advisers and other GLN members to organise collaborative ways to work together, as well as a centralised programmes and capability function housed within Crown Law – the GLN Team.
In late 2019, Crown Law folded the GLN Team functions into a new System Leadership Group (SLG), led by Katie. The SLG continues to provide programmes, build capability and support the Network through the GLN Programmes and Capability Team led by Monique Esplin, but now also delivers legal advice, products and guidance across government through the System Advice Team led by Justine Falconer. Both Monique and Justine started their roles in early 2020.
“We’d literally just started in these new roles and then Covid-19 came along,” recalls Justine.
“That immediately changed our focus to what can we do to help the GLN respond to the pandemic as it was all hands to the pump right across government.”
“There was a lot of work being done at a very fast pace across government, and much of it relied on legal advice,” adds Katie.
“One positive thing that came out of Covid was that we started an online catch up of Chief Legal Advisors. We were meeting every couple of days and running a system that kept key agencies’ legal teams connected. We have ended up continuing this online catch up once a week.”
Another evolution spurred on by Covid and the lockdowns has been the use of technology for facilitating events.
“We took our Practice Group seminars online and ensured there were events being held through videoconference as we knew that people may be feeling isolated,” says Monique.
“We’ve carried on using channels like Microsoft Teams which is fantastic for government lawyers based outside of Wellington and people who just want to avoid the commute to a physical location on a busy day. It’s been really empowering using technology in this way and has strengthened our ability to collaborate.”
Products to improve legal advice across the public service
A major development for the GLN has been the SLG’s move into delivering legal advice, products and guidance at a system level.
“There will be legal issues that occur again and again across different departments so it’s more effective and efficient if we can pull together advice that can be used by many people,” explains Katie.
“It means people don’t have to start from scratch. We are now a source of advice on topics that are relevant across government so that lawyers in every department can benefit from the depth of experience and knowledge that exists across the Network.”
A great example of this is Te Pouārahi | the Judge Over Your Shoulder guide (or JOYS for short). You can find it at www.joys.crownlaw.govt.nz. The guide and its accompanying video are aimed at public sector decision-makers and are designed to inform and improve the quality of decision-making in government.
“We’ve had some really positive feedback about this resource. It’s available to the public so I’d encourage anyone who interacts with the public service at a legal level to access it,” says Justine.
“This is a really valuable tool that removes the need for individual legal teams to start from scratch every time this topic comes up,” adds Katie.
“With the video we’ve provided a resource for lawyers to use to educate others in their organisations. It’s a really good example of how we’re leveraging the strength of the Network, by not only putting together a resource like this but by making it available so widely.”
Increasing diversity and inclusion across the public service
One of the key priorities for the GLN is to increase diversity and inclusion across the Network to better reflect the population of Aotearoa. This also includes a particular focus on strengthening engagement with Māori and Pasifika lawyers and law students; and enhancing the Network’s knowledge of te reo and tikanga Māori.
“We are really clear that cultural awareness, a knowledge of Te Tiriti and te ao Māori, and a commitment to diversity and inclusion are attributes that we’re looking for in future government lawyers” says Monique. There are various initiatives already in place designed to upskill people in these areas, and the Network is exploring what more we can do to meet any lawyer-specific development needs.
Developing talent across the network
The internship opportunities and graduate programmes that GLN offers are highly competitive, and rightly so. Students and graduates who have been selected for these speak highly of the level of support they receive through the structured programmes, training opportunities, seminars and networking events.
The Summer Clerk and Graduate Programmes provide a great introduction to being a government lawyer. Summer clerks are placed in a government legal team for 13 weeks over summer and graduates are placed in three different agencies each over the course of two years.
“The programmes continue to prove to be very popular – we received over 300 applications for the Summer Clerk Programme this year and almost 250 for the Graduate Programme. It’s a tough job to select the top candidates from such a high calibre of applicants. But it demonstrates the strong interest in working as a government lawyer” says Monique.
Once lawyers are part of the GLN they can sign up to receive SLG communications including event notifications, a monthly newsletter, and a jobs and secondments newsletter that many managers use as a key recruitment tool.
“This is all part of our drive to develop career pathways in order to retain the knowledge and skills of our current government lawyers in government,” says Katie.
“It’s also really beneficial when people move around as they take their knowledge to new agencies.”
Looking towards the next ten years
Now in its tenth year, the GLN is more relevant than ever. Encouraging public servants to work together, to share their expertise, resources and knowledge is at the heart of the Government’s public sector reforms that came into force last year.
“As 2020 taught us, we don’t know what the future holds”, remarks Katie, “but together, we will continue to thrive as a world class public service with a world class legal network at its heart.”