Leighton Associates’ Role as a Think Tank – by Tristam Price

Wikipedia defines a Think Tank as:

“a research institute that performs research and advocacy concerning topics such as social policy, political strategy, economics, military, technology, and culture. Most think tanks are non-governmental organizations, but some are semi-autonomous agencies within government or are associated with particular political parties or businesses. Think-tank funding often includes a combination of millionaire donations and individual contributions, with many also accepting government grants.

Think tanks publish articles, studies or even draft legislation on particular matters of policy or society. This information is then readily used by governments, businesses, media organizations, social movements or other interest groups as part of their goals. Think tanks range from those associated with highly academic or scholarly activities to those that are overtly ideological and pushing for particular policy, with widely differing quality of research among them. Later generations of think tanks have tended to be more ideologically-oriented.”

Just kidding about the tinfoil hat by the way...

Leighton Associates was started up to fill what we believed was a void in critical analysis of the employment dispute resolution industry. Being as objective as possible, and using Wikipedia’s definition as a guide, this is how we compare LA’s functions with those of other think tanks:

Research activity

  • Degree of specialisation (NZ employment law) is typical.

  • Degree of research, using a combination of public documents, industry insider knowledge and private conversations is typical.

  • Advocacy activity is low, notwithstanding our relatively close relationship with people who do employment advocacy for a living.

  • Social policy is a strong focus, but with a hands-off approach. This approach is possible given LA’s emphasis on reporting its findings on this blogsite, and the likelihood that some of our reports have been influencing individuals who are themselves influential.

  • Political strategy activities are low. We don’t consider the Employment Relations Act 2000 to be particularly flawed or outdated, hence the lack of lobbying activity.

  • LA are self-funded with a modest budget. LA have never requested government funding because of the discomfort our reported research may cause to a variety of government departments, in the broader employment relationship context. However, we have noted the efforts of others who have proposed new legislation, such as the Protection of Whistleblowers Bill.

Publishing activity

  • LA has published about 80 articles in its first 18 months, in a blog format, and is moderately active on social media. Facebook posts with the link to the original blog are more easily shared and commented on than having the blog circulated by email, for example.

  • LA occasionally engages with mainstream media, usually in the context of reposting (with the reporter’s permission) articles of interest, on matters we might not have discovered ourselves.

  • To the best of our knowledge, mainstream media have not reported any of our articles, although there has been sharing of knowledge on occasion. We have no specific knowledge on whether any media organisations have been gagged from reporting certain employment matters we have reported on, and we do not enquire into the reasons for reporters withdrawing from an employment matter they were initially interested in. However, we have blogged on suppression and non-publication orders before and can do it again.

  • As we are not political lobbyists; ministerial engagement has been very limited. However, our reported research is freely available to individuals, businesses including law firms, government departments and politicians.

  • LA employs basic marketing principles to get views and Facebook comments. We maintain a dispassionate tone in most blogs, but occasionally we augment an article with a little irony and sarcasm!

Other employment law bloggers

Many law firms blog on their own website on areas of law they have expertise in. We see this as marketing activity. For example, if you needed a lawyer, you would probably choose a firm whose articles are of use to you and would help you to read up on the relevant Act, become a “legally literate” client and most likely save in legal costs by drafting your own affidavit and getting the lawyer to edit it, rather than having the lawyer draft one from scratch.

Others go further, for example Peter Cullen and Susan Hornsby-Geluk are regular contributors to

LA currently has no plans to monetise its activities.

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