Junior lawyers

JLD interview with Auckland Young Lawyers and Caroline Laband

The JLD has recently coordinated with the New Zealand Law Society’s Auckland Young Lawyers committee to interview Caroline Laband

JLD: Who does AYL represent?

Caroline Laband

NZLS AYL : The Auckland Young Lawyers committee (AYL) is part of the New Zealand Law Society, the governing body for legal practice in New Zealand. The AYL, much like the JLD, represents those lawyers who have been in practice for five years or less, regardless of age. Its main objectives are to represent the interests of its members, to promote collegiality amongst the profession, and to coordinate social and educational events to that end.

Being a far smaller country however (with a total population of 4 million people), our members are far fewer in number. The profession across the country is made up of around 12,000 lawyers. That number in Auckland is about 5,000, and the number of members with five years PQE or less comes to about 1,500 – drastically less than the JLD’s 75,000 members!

JLD: How did you go you about obtaining dual qualification in both New Zealand and England and Wales?

CL : I am originally from England and so qualified to be a barrister in England in the usual way, ie a law degree followed by Bar School and then one year of pupillage. When I moved to New Zealand, to re-qualify I had to do six exams in the core subjects (although it can be different if you’re coming from certain other jurisdictions). The experience of doing exams again after years of being a qualified lawyer felt a bit painful at the time, although I was able to stagger them over a year while I was working in a firm. That said, until you’ve passed them you can’t hold yourself out as a lawyer and can’t appear in court.

The experience of doing exams again after years of being a qualified lawyer felt a bit painful at the time,

The conception generally is that they are quite onerous in terms of volume, although I think the law society has streamlined the content a bit over the last few years. There is no formal teaching for the exams - you are just given the names of the texts and the topics, statutes and cases that will be examined on, and then you just go away and study. Once you’ve passed the exams you can then apply to be admitted in the normal way, with all the other candidates in the usual ceremony.

JLD: How long did you practice in England and Wales and how did the experience compare to life as a lawyer in New Zealand?

CL : I was a barrister in London for eight years before coming to New Zealand to practice as a solicitor and barrister in a firm, so it’s quite difficult to compare in a way. The biggest difference for me was probably that transition from being a self employed barrister to being employed in a firm, rather than the differences between jurisdictions. But generally in terms of the difference in the jurisdictions, the New Zealand market is obviously a lot smaller, and because of that you have to be more of a generalist.

In London I specialised in insurance and shipping law, but when I transitioned to New Zealand I necessarily had to take on a broader litigation practice. The smaller market also means that there are much closer networks. In New Zealand people talk about there being two degrees of separation rather than six. So it’s easier to get to know a good proportion of the people operating in the legal market in New Zealand than perhaps it is in London where the market is just so big.

The smaller market also means that there are much closer networks.

Another big difference is that the work that litigation solicitors do in New Zealand includes a lot of the work that in England is done by barristers. As a barrister in London I would expect to be drafting all the pleadings and much of the evidence, along with providing opinions and advice and of course appearing in court.

In contrast, in New Zealand, the majority of cases are run by solicitors in firms without instructing an external barrister. When barristers are instructed, often they would only become heavily involved at the hearing stage of the proceedings, with the majority of the pleadings and evidence being prepared by lawyers within a firm. So that’s something I’ve really liked about coming to New Zealand - being in a firm you still do a lot of that really interesting work without having to farm it out to barristers.

The reason for that stems from having (in part) a fused profession in that lawyers are admitted as both barristers and solicitors, rather than committing to be one or the other at an early stage as is the case in England. The bar in New Zealand is much smaller and people don’t tend to go into it right from the beginning in the same way as they do in England.

Being in a firm rather than in a barrister’s chambers has also helped me to gain much more commercial experience as you get the ability to be much closer to the commercial client than is the case when you are at the bar, generally operating through the medium of a solicitor’s firm.

JLD: What advice would you give to junior lawyers thinking about dual qualification?

CL : Obviously it’s fantastic for travel and broadening your horizons. I’m all for getting as much varied experience as you can to give you a different perspective on commercial and working practices. I think it’s important to have a few years under your belt first so that you have something to offer when you are applying overseas but generally I can’t really see many downsides.

It is also worth remembering that the Inner Temple offers this fantastic programme called the Pegasus Scholarship which can be taken up from a number of countries. If you are awarded a scholarship you are placed in a law firm or in a set of chambers for a couple of months somewhere overseas (you can state which country you would prefer). The scholarship pays travel and accommodation expenses, and (at least when I did it) you are also paid a salary. I took up a scholarship to work in Singapore for three months when I was about four years PQE and it was a great taster of what life could be like in another jurisdiction.

I’m all for getting as much varied experience as you can to give you a different perspective on commercial and working practices.

JLD: How do you think that dual qualification has benefitted you in your career in New Zealand?

CL : Personally, having had that experience as a barrister in London is a point of difference and I think for anybody going overseas, being dual qualified necessarily means that you will have experience that differentiates you from the pack.

The main benefit for me in working at the bar in London in the early stages of my career was having an opportunity to work with QCs who were at the top of their field right – it had a massive impact on my learning and development. But I think that whether you are at the bar or in a firm, wherever you go, the learning curves will be huge, and you will be able to bring that back to your practice and apply it in different ways if you want to.

JLD: Other than England and Wales, if you could dual qualify in any other jurisdiction, which would it be and why?

CL : Definitely Canada. I looked into moving to Canada when thinking about coming to New Zealand. I don’t know what the re-qualification process is like now but at that time it was fairly onerous and would have involved going back to university.

Given that my husband is a lawyer as well, having two of us go back to University was really not a viable option. I had spent a year in Canada when I was 18 years old, loved it, and would have been very happy to move to Vancouver. It’s quite similar to Auckland in a lot of ways, but with the additional advantage of very good skiing two hours away.

Why did I come to New Zealand? Well, my husband and I only looked at common law jurisdictions as we thought it would be easier to re-qualify. My husband is Scottish and melts in any temperatures above about 25 degrees so most of the other common law jurisdictions were off limits. We just really liked the idea of the outdoors life in New Zealand, living next to the beach, the beautiful country and great people.

We just really liked the idea of the outdoors life in New Zealand, living next to the beach, the beautiful country and great people.

JLD: What is your most memorable cross-border case and why?

CL : I was once instructed by a Swiss bank operating out of the Bahamas defending a breach of trust claim by a Spanish Bank which was controlled by the Kuwaiti Investment Office – so you’ve got lots of borders to cross there already. As part of that I got to go out to the Bahamas to look at some documents for two weeks in an office that only opened between 10:00 until 16:00. “Unfortunately” it was simply not possible to work outside of those hours. Luckily I was put up in an amazing hotel that had about seven swimming pools complete with water slides, so I didn’t get too bored in all my spare time.

Actually the most memorable thing about that trip was that I had to attend court for a directions hearing, but the heel broke of my shoe on the walk to court. I ended up in court in my flip flops hoping that no one would look under the desk. Now that’s something we don’t do even in the relaxed jurisdiction of New Zealand!

Read the New Zealand Law Society’s interview with JLD Chair Max Harris

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