ILANZ, In-House Lawyers Association of New Zealand


Solicitor-General inspires government lawyers

Solicitor-General inspires government lawyers

By Helen Mackay| October 19, 2016 at 12:00 AM

“Be strong, be courageous, be steadfast.” This was the final encouragement with which Solicitor-General Una Jagose QC ended her address at the Government Lawyers Conference in Wellington in August. Her keynote address at the annual conference spoke of the need for government lawyers to practise smart, agile lawyering in meeting their collective challenge to deliver value and stewardship to the Crown as its “uber in-house legal team”. She suggested the traditional solicitor-client relationship is too rigid and transactional to meet this challenge and instead a more collaborative style of lawyering is needed across the network.

Ms Jagose spoke of the role of the Solicitor-General as being both a privilege and a burden and the need to consider ‘what is the proper view of the law that the Crown should take?’ The guiding principles are always the rule and integrity of the law. New Zealand is best served by lawyers who hold executive to account, speak truth to power and behave constructively in service to the public. Some degree of conflict is inevitable around the provision and acceptance of legal advice due to competing risk tolerances but government must act and must be seen to act lawfully.

The importance of good relationships was emphasised with the simple but sage advice “being nice and having respect for people is powerful.” Ms Jagose encouraged the delegates to “put people first and always observe basic courtesies of being polite and timely”. Influence is not about where you are in the hierarchy but who you can have an impact on as part of the wider whole. Building influence includes delivering legal advice in smart ways that connect with the audience who receive them. The answer today is seldom the classic legal opinion. Ms Jagose stressed that lawyers still need to go through the discipline of rigorous thinking and interpretation for which there are no short-cuts but that the work product given to the decision- maker could be a diagram, a brief for a discussion roundtable or a flowchart rather than a lengthy text document.

Talent development is a key focus of Ms Jagose’s work as Chief Executive of Crown Law. She wants her colleagues to love their work and for others to see the system value proposition. Lawyers are well-placed to act as problem spotters and solvers within the Crown and to understand context and consequence. They must get comfortable with disruption to order and always put the rule of law first. The scope and nature of the challenge is embodied in the Chilcott report which provides an important case study in the multitude of ways in which the independence of a lawyer might be compromised.

Crown Law’s helicopter view across the whole system means it is well-placed to understand and advise on crown risks and opportunities. This vision of a networked system used wisely is a powerful one which will enable government lawyers to be the “adaptable and agile” lawyers that their Solicitor-General encourages them to be.