Working in Government

What can you expect from a career as a government lawyer?

For talented graduates, or lawyers already in practice, the public sector is a great place to launch or further develop a legal career. It’s a challenging and dynamic environment infused with a commitment to public service and opportunities to extend your professional acumen. Talent and enthusiasm are rewarded with access to complex issues, professional development and mentoring opportunities.

Government Legal Network People Plan

Recognising that people are at the heart of what we do, we have recently developed a Government Legal Network People Plan that sets out fifteen ambitious projects targeted at diversity and inclusion; career progression and mentoring; and untapping the collective potential of current and future leaders.  The Plan will give you an excellent indication of the values and perspectives that are important to the Government Legal Network.  Please click here, or on the tab in the menu at the top of this page, to access it.

Why our lawyers enjoy working in the Network

Michael Hargreaves

Chief Legal Advisor, WorkSafe New Zealand

Dispel any preconceived notions. If you are open to the opportunities in government, you will have a fantastic and fulfilling career.

Richard Evans

Solicitor, New Zealand Treasury

Being a young lawyer in government is exciting and extremely satisfying. You get access to challenging work early in your career.

Pakeeza Rasheed

Solicitor, Department of Corrections

Government lawyers are passionate for change, for the law, for fairness and integrity. As a public sector lawyer you have a voice.

Erin Judge

Senior Advisor, Government Legal Network

In government, the skills you have as a parent transfer to work. It’s good to know my work not only helps society – it makes a better New Zealand for my children.

One of the most rewarding aspects of a government legal career is the inherent sense of contribution it brings. Whether your passion is environmental issues, child welfare or economic growth there is a government agency working in that area. You know your work is directly upholding the Rule of Law, the effective workings of Government and better outcomes for all New Zealanders.

The scope of legal issues confronting government is broad, and diverse agencies and departments require access to skilled advocates. Organisations are often grouped in sectors such as Natural Resources, Social Services, Justice, Trade, Security and Defence. A list of all state sector agencies is available on the State Services Commission's website.

There are always issues requiring the expertise and leadership of government lawyers:

  • Economic management: trade, investment, intellectual property and protection of industries integral to our economy.
  • Biodiversity and Environment: protecting New Zealand’s unique ecology from threat, maintaining our Antarctic interests and responding to emergencies such as the MV Rena grounding.
  • Energy and Transport: enabling economic prosperity and environmental sustainability through advocacy related to the use of natural resources and the design of efficient, connected and safe transportation networks.
  • Treaty of Waitangi: supporting positive and enduring relationships between the Government and Māori, concluding the remaining Treaty Negotiations and incorporating Treaty principles into New Zealand statutes.
  • Constitutional and Human Rights: upholding the democratic rights and freedoms of New Zealanders through effective legislation, constitutional conventions and fair elections. Using our positive reputation to support international human rights efforts.
  • Responding to and minimising crime: enabling a fair, transparent and accessible justice system, holding offenders to account, and reducing the occurrence and impact of crime in New Zealand.
  • Health and welfare: ensuring New Zealand’s legislation and policies support efficient and effective state health and welfare systems focused on addressing need, preventing abuse and supporting the vulnerable.
  • Education: ensuring New Zealanders have ready access to learning and development – from early childhood education through to advanced tertiary learning. 
  • Communication and infrastructure: enabling smooth business transactions and better access to learning through swift and reliable communications infrastructure (e.g. broadband technology).
  • Defence, security and International: supporting New Zealand as a sovereign nation state, participating in international conflict management and peace efforts, and upholding our obligations under international accords.

Through on-the-job mentoring and more formal development opportunities, you’ll gain a diverse range of experience and (dependent on your area of specialisation) exposure to the workings of the various courts and tribunals. Your ongoing development will also be actively supported through GLN-led initiatives which include a diverse range of seminars, lectures and networking opportunities. This will help you stay connected with your wider colleagues, and the latest developments and opportunities in public sector legal practice.

A public sector legal career allows you to explore the relationships between law, public service and governance. But it doesn’t preclude you from other career options. A legal qualification, combined with experience in government, will make you a compelling candidate for roles in both the public and private sectors.