The Innovators: Katie Bhreatnach, General Counsel, Airways New Zealand

LawFest organiser Andrew King continues a series of interviews with key legal professionals with their innovation and technology stories.

Tell us about yourself?

Tēna koutou katoa. I am Katie Bhreatnach, the General Counsel and GM of Customer and Regulatory Partnerships at Airways. In my current role I lead a talented and diverse group of functional leaders in Customer Management, Legal, Regulatory and Policy. Our team manages our stakeholder relationships with our regulator, industry associations, customers and the third parties we partner with. The aviation sector is fascinating and the work we do at Airways has a powerful purpose – we keep the skies safe today and tomorrow, and our vision is to create the aviation environment of the future. It’s an exciting and challenging time to work here – while the aviation sector and our organisation have been significantly impacted by Covid 19, transformational change that was already part of our strategy has been accelerated.

On a person note, my whanau is a big part of who I am. My three daughters, husband and dog offer a totally different kind of joy and challenge outside of work. I enjoy tramping and camping (preferably with no hot water, electricity or cell phone coverage), live music, travelling, comedy and the arts. I also love rugby and am a loyal Blues fan (and not just in 2020). Whenever I get the chance I head up to the far north where my parents live and everything is warmer and simpler.

What does legal innovation mean to you?

As the saying goes, innovate or die. Businesses are constantly innovating, and those that don’t risk obsolescence (just ask Kodak or Nokia). The same is true for in house legal functions. As in-house lawyers we need to be able to ensure we meet the needs of the business, and to adapt in order to remain relevant. As Charles Spillane once said years ago when he was the General Counsel of Auckland Airport, a good in house lawyer will help you navigate the top of a cliff by providing you with rope, not tell you to stay away from the edge. (Probably more eloquently though!)

What role does technology play in innovation?

When I started out in law school I hand wrote my assignments. When I started out as a law clerk, paper files and faxes were the norm. Technological change has revolutionised lawyering. It has allowed us to be more efficient and it will continue to do so. It has even changed the way in which we work. All of the lawyers in my team work remotely, part time and flexibly – and it is technology that facilitates this. We have cloud-based software that manages matters and contracts (thanks LawVu). We also have great dashboard reporting, which allows us to demonstrate to our internal stakeholders the value we offer them on a regular basis, and provides data and insights that support innovation.

What pressures are organisations facing in the delivery of legal services?

Like our non-legal counterparts, there is pressure to do more with less, and to be able to demonstrate the value that we bring. For me this is a key reason why the money in my budget spent on analytics and reporting is money well spent.

What developments do you see in how legal services are delivered?

Although there are six lawyers in my team, we rely on external support in order to meet the needs of our businesses, and will continue to do so. There are times when gold plated advice is exactly what’s needed, but other times it isn’t. The disruption and innovation that is happening in external law firm offerings is exciting. When I think back to the beginning of my career in house lawyers made up a small portion of the legal community. Now we make up 25%, and increasingly take up leadership and executive roles in the organisations we work in, as the combination of legal and commercial skills is highly valued. I think these trends will continue, and I look forward to more disruption.

How have you gone about getting buy in for legal technology?

People often ask me how they can convince the organisation they work in to invest in dedicated legal software. My answer is to develop a business case that solves other people’s problems or challenges. When I come in to an organisation I spend a lot of energy finding out what my internal stakeholders’ drivers are – what’s not working for them and where can I find solutions to problems or challenges. From that I build a business case that demonstrates how matter management and contract management systems can solve their problems, rather than focus on the advantages to the legal function. Once approved, I work hard to continually demonstrate value through dashboard and KPI reporting – just like my non-legal counterparts. It’s also a great way to make future business cases for additional resource!

What are some of your tips to start innovating or developing an innovative mindset?

An innovative mindset to me is seeking out problems and finding ways to solve them. To do that, think creatively and include lots of perspectives and people who will challenge your thinking. I’m a huge fan of diversity of thought, and getting to the right outcome rather than being right.

Andrew King is the founder of Legal Innovate ( He helps lawyers and organisations successfully innovate through leveraging technology to help improve the way they deliver legal services Legal Innovate includes LawFest (, LegalTech Hub ( and E-Discovery Consulting (

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