Name: Oliver Lee
Job title: Solicitor, Legal Team
Employer: The Treasury, Wellington, NZ
Length of time in current role: 18 months
Where and when you studied law: Victoria University of Wellington, 2007 – 2011
Describe a typical day in your job
My work in the Legal team at Treasury is quite varied and I can be working on a number of different things in any given day. The Treasury Legal team operates a “liaison lawyer” system, where each lawyer in the team is assigned as the legal contact for different teams around the building. Each Treasury is different and may have its own requirements for legal assistance. However, my main duties can include:
- Contracts: Assistance with the review and negotiation of contracts, including giving advice on the terms of the Government Model Contract and supplier contracts; providing advice on IT-related contracts, such as software licence agreements; advising on guarantees and indemnities contained in contracts; advising on rights and remedies
- Official Information Act: Advising on OIA responses
- Debt Management Office: Assist with the drafting of loan documents; assist with annual compliance projects; advise on Financial Markets Conduct Act matters; assist with government bond tender syndications
- Bona vacantia: assist members of the public and external lawyers with queries and applications relating to ownerless property and unclaimed money
- Commercial operations: advising on Companies Act and Public Finance Act matters with respect to Crown companies
- Export Credit Office: advising on export credit applications; assisting with the drafting of export credit policies
How did you get into this job?
I was alerted to the opportunity by a friend. At the time I was working for a law firm in litigation and was thinking about working in a different area. I read the advertisement and job description and thought the position sounded like one that I would enjoy and be challenged by.
Are there any particular study subjects or working experience you would recommend to prepare for a similar role to yours?
Knowledge of how government works and the parliamentary cycle has been beneficial, so political science papers would be helpful but not essential. As far as law papers at university are concerned, a knowledge of the principles of public law is reasonably important. But otherwise I don’t think there are any particular law papers that would assist.
For work experience, basic experience with commercial contracts, drafting letters and opinions and knowledge of public law issues is helpful. Experience working for a government department or state sector organisation would be beneficial. But the role of in-house government lawyer is a fairly unique one, with a lot of new skills acquired on the job, so there is no need for a particular kind of experience.
What are the highlights of the job?
One of the main highlights of working at Treasury is the great team members and quality of clients. The Legal team has a great culture of discussing legal issues in a collaborative way and encouraging every member to contribute their ideas. The team has several members who have great experience and knowledge from working at Treasury and they are always happy to share that knowledge with others. We also have excellent clients who give clear instructions and are happy to take time to discuss the work they are doing, which is very important and helpful for the legal team.
Another highlight is being able to know we are assisting on projects and matters that will deliver positive results and benefits not just to the public sector but also to New Zealanders. Treasury is a central agency and plays an important function in the operation of the public sector. It is good to know that our work helps Treasury to operate efficiently and effectively, so it can focus on delivering good advice to ministers.
Finally, the work is a highlight because it is varied and interesting. We are often dealing with unusual questions and legal issues that you would only be exposed to by working as a government lawyer. There is a good variety of work and we are encouraged to explore areas of law that are new and challenging.
What are the challenges of the job?
Time and client management can be a challenge at times due to the competing work demands. With many teams in the building all needing prompt advice and assistance, it can often be challenging to prioritise matters and deliver timely service to all clients. However this challenge can be managed through good communication with clients and setting expectations early.
What kind of personal qualities are suited to this job?
This job is ideal for someone with passion for the law and a willingness to embrace new challenges. I came into the job with limited experience of various matters that I would be exposed to as a Treasury lawyer, but I was willing to learn and challenge myself. Being ready to give new things a go is a key skill as the Legal team is often asked to help with challenging issues that may not have been considered before.
Being outgoing and a good communicator is also very important. Communication is vital for any lawyer. Working in a large organisation like Treasury, with a diverse range of clients, effective communication of legal advice and analysis is very important.
What one thing do you wish someone had told you at law school?
I wish someone had told me to have more of a focus on studying the papers I think I will enjoy, rather than the papers that I think will be useful for a future career. I studied a lot of commercial and finance based law papers, but only a few of those papers have had any relevance or application for me after starting work as a lawyer. I think if I had taken a few more ‘interest’ papers I would have enjoyed my final years at law school more and would have been more engaged with the material.
Any advice for students wanting to get into a similar role?
Being an in-house government lawyer requires a broad skill set and a willingness to embrace new challenges. My advice would be for students to study a wide range of law papers and not be too narrow in their subject choice. I would also encourage students to get involved with voluntary legal work at a community law centre. It is great experience, allows you to learn ‘lawyer’ skills and is a great point of difference to have on your CV.