A Day in the Life of / Life / Life after law school

A Day in the Life of a… MBIE Policy Advisor

Name: Gabriel Julian-Brougham
Job title: Policy Advisor
Employer, city/country: MBIE, Wellington, New Zealand
Length of time in current role: 18 months
Where and when you studied law: Victoria University of Wellington/ ’05-10

 

Describe a typical day in your job

There is a mixture of:

  • Working on a team project with long-term milestones.
  • Managing my own projects for subject-matters I’m responsible for (for example looking at amendments to a particular set of regulations).
  • Meeting/ talking with stakeholders frequently to make sure there is a good feedback loop throughout the policy development process.
  • Thinking/ researching about policy problems.
  • Thinking about the best way advice can be crafted/ presented.
  • Minor, more administrative tasks.
  • On-the-job learning (e.g. attending presentations, reading about relevant policy areas, researching international perspectives etc.).

 

How did you get into this job?

This is my first policy role. I was working in a different government role before this (but in a more operational capacity. This taught me about government processes and I got a feel for how government decisions are made). In combination with my law background, this allowed for a fairly smooth transition into this role.

 

Are there any particular study subjects or working experience you would recommend to prepare for a similar role to yours?

I would recommend study where an analytical method is built into the subjects/ degree (e.g. law, economics, public policy, philosophy, science etc.). Basically study that teaches you how to argue for why you reach a particular decision. My job really boils down decision-making and the recommendation of a particular decision, so any study which helps develop this analytical skill is valuable.

Relevant experience would be: to have worked in the government sector, perhaps in a different capacity (and to have an understanding of the machinery of government, as this is also important). Understanding different government processes is key, as you are often end up in the middle of one (i.e. a process that has happened before but with different specific subject-matter/ policy issues etc.).

 

What are the highlights of the job?

I get to solve problems, which impact people. You are not simply doing the “same old, same old” every day. You are approaching issues from different perspectives and thinking about the best solutions.

You get to write so if you like this, that’s good too.

You meet interesting and influential people (for example meeting with Ministers, and other key stakeholders).

 

What are the challenges of the job?

Parts of the role involve looking at quite technical aspects of policy. When providing advice you need to be able to communicate this in a way that is meaningful and concise. This can be challenging. For example you need to provide just the right amount of detail but nothing more, for what is often complex material (and getting this right is an art). So having perspective is important: understanding the detail but having the “big picture” in mind.

 

What kind of personal qualities are suited to this job?

A combination of people skills and analytical skills.

You deal with stakeholders quite frequently and being able to communicate well and understand their perspectives on particular issues is very important.

In addition, you are often faced with a policy issue/ problem (e.g. whether certain legislation should be amended) and you need to be able to articulate why a particular course of action is best (i.e. provide options, weigh-up each one, and make a recommendation on the best/ most appropriate change).

Often the advice is in written form, so writing skills are important. However, it is the thought-process/ analytics of why and how decision/ recommendations are made that are more important.

 

What one thing do you wish someone had told you at law school?

From what I remember, law school taught material in a fairly static way: here are principles, here are key laws, learn them, apply them to different fact scenarios, argue one way and another and come up with a decision. As a decision-making process this is fine, however the law is more fluid and more easily changed than I realized. Maybe there could have be more emphasis on this.

 

Any advice for students wanting to get into a similar role?

It’s not all about study. Building relationships with people is very important and at the end of the day, policy decisions are being made which affect people. Having empathy and being able to engage people with the issues (even when technical) is key. I would emphasize this as the most important thing.