Michael Allan

Solicitor: Environmental Protection Authority

I currently work as a Solicitor at the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA).  The role offers me the chance to get stuck into a diverse range of legal work while pursuing my interest in the environmental sector.

michael allan for website

There is no doubt in my mind that an in-house role in the public sector is a great WAY to grow your career and maybe even leave Aotearoa in a better place than before.

With an an LLB and BA in Geography from the University of Otago, I started out my career learning the ropes at one of the large accounting firms in town.  While the experience was a great introduction to the world of commerce and consultancy, my interest in energy and natural resources led me to apply to join the marine consenting team at the EPA.  I’d never really considered an in-house legal role in the public sector up to this point but working alongside our legal team on marine consent applications for offshore oil and gas operations opened my eyes to the possibility.  Fortunately for me an opportunity to join the team came up shortly thereafter and I decided to take the plunge and see if working in-house was for me.

The in-house legal role appealed to me for two main reasons: the opportunity to learn from a highly capable and experienced team and the chance to gain exposure to a wide variety of work.  Both have exceeded all expectations.  I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have colleagues who will go out of their way to share their extensive knowledge.  To be in an environment where bouncing ideas off each other and debating complex issues is encouraged is really important, from both a personal development sense but also for gaining an appreciation of how others might look at and work through the same problem.  It is through these interactions that I’ve learned valuable lessons on how to approach different types of problems - skills that will be useful for any future role.  It’s worth noting that the opportunity to learn from colleagues is not only limited to time spent with your immediate team.  The Government Legal Network plays an important role in providing access to the vast amount of experience that sits with lawyers in the public sector.  Whether it’s through sharing ideas in the various forums or taking advantage of the regular trainings on offer, it makes sense to tap into and share experiences with this network.

The in-house legal role appealed to me for two main reasons: the opportunity to learn from a highly capable and experienced team and the chance to gain exposure to a wide variety of work.  Both have exceeded all expectations. 

The second aspect of working in-house where I feel I’ve really benefited has been the high degree of exposure I’ve had to a whole range of legal work.  Although relatively small at around 165 staff, the EPA is responsible for a wide range of functions.  These include regulating hazardous chemicals and new organisms, administering New Zealand's emissions trading scheme, facilitating decision-making on offshore oil and gas, seabed mining and nationally significant infrastructure projects.  While my main focus has been on our marine consenting and compliance functions under the relatively new exclusive economic zone legislation, working in a small team has meant I’ve needed to quickly come up to speed on a whole range of environmental and public law.  Having that exposure to a wide range of subject matter early in my career has certainly made a big difference and helped me develop much faster than I would have otherwise.

Having recently taken up mountaineering as a hobby,  I've come to learn that assessing the snowpack and weather conditions before starting out can make a big difference to the success or otherwise of an ascent.  Similarly, when providing legal advice in an organisation with such a diverse range of functions, I’ve found that taking time to understand the wider context will almost always put me in a better position to quickly get to the nub of the problem and offer sound advice.  It may sound simple but in the same way that "weekend warrior" syndrome or "summit fever" (allowing time or the objective to impact on decision-making to one’s detriment) can impact on your judgement as a mountaineer, it can be testing to stick to this approach if you are under time pressure in the office! 

On a somewhat related note, taking the time to learn more about the issues that operational teams face can bring about fascinating conversations on all manner of topics.  Recently I found myself learning about how dispersants can operate to counteract the impact of an oil spill in the marine environment. Perhaps not everyone's cup of tea but I must be in the right area as I can’t help but take an interest in these sorts of things!

While there are many reasons to consider a legal career in the public sector, the most compelling for me is the chance to gain exposure to a wide variety of work and through that find work that is meaningful to you. There is no doubt in my mind that an in-house role in the public sector is a great way to grow your career and maybe even leave Aotearoa in a better place than before.

EPA team for website

I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have colleagues who will go out of their way to share their extensive knowledge.  To be in an environment where bouncing ideas off each other and debating complex issues is encouraged is really important.