When University of Waikato alumna Courtney Dick secured a role as the in-house lawyer for Rocket Lab, she had to get up to speed on space law.
Courtney is a 2021 excellence awardee for James & Wells Young In-House Lawyer of the Year award.
Courtney completed a conjoint Bachelor of Management Studies and Bachelor of Laws (BMS/LLB) in 2012.
She says, “When I graduated, I had no idea what I wanted to do, I realised I didn’t want to work in a law firm straight away so I packed my bag and went to the UK to learn some things about life.”
In the UK, Courtney secured a job as an in-house lawyer which was an unusual launching pad for a law graduate; traditionally, most New Zealand law graduates get their first role in a law firm. This experience in the UK, coupled with in-house work on return to New Zealand, made her the perfect choice to join Rocket Lab in 2019 as the in-house lawyer.
Courtney’s choice to follow a legal career of in-house law is rewarding.
“By going in-house, I have been able to utilise both my degrees. It’s nice to be part of the business process and strategic management and I work with multiple teams including finance, creative, procurement and strategic,” says Courtney.
There are challenges working in the new terrain of space law.
“Nobody previously thought of aerospace in our legislation and most people understand the aviation industry, but aerospace is completely different. We are trying to understand and incorporate legislation to fit our business, even the liability aspect is really difficult manoeuvre and get people comfortable with.”
Courtney finds the best practice for challenges is to strip the problem back to basics and treat it like any business issue.
She says, “Breaking it down like you would any normal business is the easiest way to understand the risks. I look at it as a manufacturing and engineer business at its core; everything up until the launch is a normal, but heavily engineered, business. The launch is then regulated activity by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the risk is managed.”
When Courtney needs further guidance on uncharted space law questions, she leans on her colleagues in the USA branch for mentoring.
Courtney has high praise for the lecturers at Te Piringa – Faculty of Law.
“The lecturers were amazing and they could take topics like criminal law and jazz it up. They were so passionate about it.”
She has fond memories of her time at Waikato.
“The University was close to home and my friends but the main reason I chose Waikato was the campus, it was all encompassing and offered everything in one area. I could meet my friends for lunch who were doing other degrees. When I looked at where to study law, I found Waikato to be the best law school in that it was leading the way in diversity and Māori law and it offered everything I needed plus the highly accredited BMS was very attractive.”
Courtney has advice for the budding student.
“Look at the big picture and don’t just take it year-by-year; map out your degree and what you will do in your career. Grades matter more than you think so give it everything you’ve got, it makes things easier as you go along. Work hard to get to where you want to be and it will be so rewarding. Don’t be afraid to do something different, give everything a go.”