Q&A with the Council’s Counsel: Katherine Anderson, Auckland Council GC

by Mackenzie McCarty04 Aug 2014
Katherine Anderson took up the role of general counsel at the Auckland Council in February this year. Directly prior, she served as the general manager, policy, performance and legal for the New Zealand Police in Wellington.

In an interview with NZ Lawyer, Anderson explains how her involvement in the council came about, and discusses on-going development of the council’s in-house team

Why did you decide to become a lawyer?
I’ll start right back at the beginning of my legal career. Like many women, I’ve done my legal training after I’d had a family. Taking the degree was a very conscious decision. I had earlier done a Bachelor of Arts Degree from Auckland University and, following on from that, I’d worked with people who had legal training and I’d been quite impressed at the level of analysis and different approach to problem-solving that came from that training. So I had the opportunity after I had my son to study law at Victoria University in Wellington and that, for me, was just a fantastic professional transformation, to move into an area which enabled a legal role.

What was your first legal role?                                     
From [university], I went to work at Chapman Tripp in Wellington and I worked very closely with some of the senior members of Chapman Tripp in a litigation context in Wellington, which was just an amazing start to a legal career.
From there, I moved to the Crown Law office in Wellington. Again, I was just really privileged to have the opportunity to work with the amazing people at Crown Law, including Helen Aikman QC, who is [now] deceased. I was very privileged to work with her. I did a range of work there, including a lot of fisheries work, public law, health law – and really enjoyed my time there.
I then left Crown Law to come to Auckland in 2001, where I worked again for Chapman Tripp but in the Auckland litigation department and in that context, my practice there as a principal at Chapman Tripp covered public law and a range of commercial litigation tax and fraud-related work. I worked on some very significant cases, including the Diagnostic Medlab case that related to the change of diagnostic laboratory services in Auckland. I worked with Jack Hodder [QC] and Adam Ross on that case. I also worked as a second chair to Paul Davison QC in relation to a fraud case.

How did you end up in a government department?
At the end of a very long trial, I happened to open up one of the legal magazines and saw an advertisement for a policy advisor, legal, at the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Because that was such an amazing opportunity, I applied for that and was very fortunate to be offered the role. During my time in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, I had a range of portfolios that I took care of – significantly across the justice sector and relation to some of the commercial aspects.
While in that role, I worked with two Prime Ministers: (Former) Prime Minister Helen Clark and Prime Minister John Key and it was a real privilege to be able to serve in that capacity and to have that insight into the decision-making processes on things that really, really mattered to New Zealand.

Why did you join Auckland Council?
The opportunity in Auckland came up and what really attracted me to it was it’s, again, a very public-service-oriented role. It’s a hugely significant public law role in Auckland and an opportunity to come back to a city that I love and to contribute to Auckland city during a time of quite significant transformational change. I’ve been in the role for three months.

And what are some of the key challenges, from a legal perspective?
It won’t be any surprise that the challenges include those in the financial sense. The council has committed to a relatively low increase in rates over time and has expressed a desire not to increase debt – and that of course then requires a prioritisation process be undertaken in the context of the long-term plan. The public of Auckland of course will have the opportunity have in-put into [this].

Finally, what are some of your interests outside of work?
I love travelling and I absolutely love the Auckland ease of access to beaches and outdoor places, having a garden and being able to grow [vegetables]. I’m really looking forward to, in spring, being able to get my vegetable garden up and growing and being able to bring my things that I’ve grown into the kitchen and turning them into delicious food for the family.

This article appeared in New Zealand Lawyer’s latest magazine edition 6.2. Subscribe for more articles and detailed legal features.