ILANZ, In-House Lawyers Association of New Zealand

Profile - Una Jagose, Solicitor General

Profile - Una Jagose, Solicitor General

By James Greenland| 17 February 2016

una 1Real public service may admittedly be less racy than the plots of her favourite TV law dramas, but Una Jagose still thinks government legal work is the most interesting and engaging there is.

The newly sworn Solicitor-General took office yesterday, replacing her former law school classmate Michael Heron QC. She steps down from her most recent role, 12 months acting as director of the Government Communications Security Bureau.

Now leading the Crown Law Office and professional head of government’s 800-plus team of in-house lawyers, Ms Jagose is keen to further advance developments at Crown Law that seek to better “harness the value” of publicly employed legal skills, knowledge and talent.

She has grand hopes for the Government Lawyers Network, which at its core, she says, is “a collaborative leadership model for the Crown legal sector”.

It’s not a “u-turn” but an entrenchment of ideas that have been well developed by the GLN, working closely with Crown Law and the wider sector for some time, not an organisational shift, but a re-focusing of intentions and priorities, she says.

“Delivering system value is something I am very keen to advance” she says, the system being the whole of government, and with added system value to be enjoyed ultimately by the public taxpayer.

“It’s about asking; ‘what is the house that we are in-house to?’”.

To Ms Jagose, the answer is obviously the Crown as a whole, not merely its component departments, which may be an in-house lawyer’s official employer.

Harnessing the full value of the government’s lawyers will build on the existing advances of shared databases and access to resources, shared practice groups and regularised secondments etcetera, she says.

It’s about working collaboratively to bring the full context to bear on the questions being asked and the consequences of different options, for government and for the Crowns’ long term legal interests - and that difference in approach may be subtle.

“I think a good lawyer is someone who is able to think about the questions they are being asked in a way that of course takes account of precedent and the law, but also asks themselves those broader questions about how does this look or fit with wider principles - maybe its natural justice, maybe it’s the rule of law.

“Some of those broader concepts that aren’t necessarily on the statute page will deliver the right answer to an issue because of the need to consider all the relevant context in which legal issues arise.

“You can be brilliant and smart, and not be a very good lawyer. Because lawyering is not only about what the law is, or the most beautiful analysis of the law.

“If you don’t get your client’s context and their consequence right, if you deliver your beautifully rendered advice too late or communicated in a way that does not fit into that clients’ frame, if you do not give them options to achieve their outcomes, you might as well not bother.”

Legal skills are essential, she says, but are only “a baseline”.

It’s also diversity of thinking that Ms Jagose says she will look for in her staff.

“And of course, diversity is more than just diversity of gender or race. I want to make sure we [Crown Law] have that diversity of thinking to answer a broad range of questions.

“I would love to see every chief legal advisor get up and do another chief legal advisor‘s job for a year. It brings a different view.

“For example, I’d like to see tax lawyers be given Treaty of Waitangi questions. They would have a totally different way of coming at it, a different way of thinking about issues. We can benefit from those shared skills and wisdom.”

Her enthusiasm for new and diverse ways of thinking are remnants of her “challenging but exciting” stint with spy agency, the GCSB.

She says it can be understandably scary, for a senior government staff member to take up an entirely new position.

“And I know from personal experience that stepping up and out into something else is quite hard and challenging. But my experience of this year has shown me really how enlivening and fantastic that has been.

“It’s called the comfort-zone for a reason.  It’s not a place where you learn, stretch and grow. Because when you push yourself out of that comfort zone, boy, great things can happen and in my own experience it’s really been incredible.”

Secondments can be disruptive, and implementing the systems that will utilise the full value of the Government’s lawyers will be challenging. And of course, funding considerations arise.

“But if you keep your mind on the main goal, the rocks along the way you can deal with,” she says.

“If we think about the money, we will answer the wrong questions. Yes, someone has to think about the money. But that shouldn’t drive how we deliver our services.”

And it’s not just rhetoric. This leader lives her words.

About her procession from Crown Law’s Legal Risk Group, to the GCSB, and now the job as Crown Law’s Chief Executive, it took work, Ms Jagose says.

“I’d had the idea that I could be the Solicitor-General for a few years, but I didn’t really have a very good idea about how I was going to get there – other than doing more of what I was already doing.

So she did some leadership development through the SSC processes, and received some “confronting feedback”.

“Staying doing what I was doing what not going to get me there.

“I was strongly encouraged to be deliberate about broadening my experience.

“I didn’t like that discussion very much at the time.”

However, broaden her experience is exactly what Ms Jagose did, and just over one year on it’s landed her where she wanted to be.

“What I have learned about myself is that I am a very good leader of people, and that has been really energising and exciting.”

Ms Jagose holds an LLB from Otago University and an LLM (First Class Honours) from Victoria University of Wellington. She was admitted in July 1990.

One of five children, she was raised in Cambridge township “in a secure and supportive family” where her parents ran a local General Practice – dad the doctor and mum the nurse.

Both parents were immigrants to New Zealand, a fact reflected by her name.

Una is a traditional Gaelic name, from her mother’s homeland Ireland.

Jagose is Parsi, reflecting her father's Parsi Indian heritage (for phonetics, "JAR" is right and the second half is like ghost, without the "t").

Now calling herself a Wellingtonian, she has lived with her partner Jenny for 25 happy years; another part of her life that she is proud of.

The Solicitor-General is appointed on the advice of the Attorney-General and is both Junior Law Officer of the Crown and Chief Executive of Crown Law.