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NEW IN THE LAW: Jennifer Howes, Solicitor, Buddle Findlay, Wellington

15 September 2016 - By Angharad O'Flynn

Jennifer Howes was born in the United States. Her father hails from the UK and her mother is American.

Initially living in Texas, the family moved to Jakarta where Jennifer attended an international school.  Her family left Indonesia and moved to Christchurch. After studying at Saint Margaret's High School, Jennifer moved to Wellington to study law at Victoria University of Wellington (VUW).

Jennifer graduated from Victoria University in 2012 after spending the second semester of her final year at the California Western School of Law. She added one more year to her law degree so she could participate in an exchange programme.

What do you enjoy most about being a lawyer?

"The human aspect to it. Even though we work for mainly big clients and corporate clients, we're always dealing with human relations, emotions and interactions. It's an area of law that I've been able to help people with." She continues saying, "Anytime something comes in with a Privacy aspect, I love."

You studied at both VUW and the California Western School of Law in the United States. Can you tell me a bit about your experiences studying at both American and New Zealand universities?

"It was really different. In the States, there is a much more practical focus."

It costs anywhere between $30,000 to $59,000 per year to study law in the US, depending on the university, and interest-free loans do not exist. Students also complete an undergraduate form of study before going to post-graduate schools, which means students are in their 20s before they choose to study subjects like law and medicine. Jennifer explains that "everyone takes it very seriously and from the start, everyone is getting internships, and they're getting jobs." 

The Socratic teaching method is used in the US, and while VUW also uses this method, sometimes the large classes mean students can miss out on dialogue with their teachers. American universities have smaller class numbers with Jennifer saying, "One of my classes had around 15 people in it, so you couldn't hide." Another one of her papers was internally assessed and for this Jennifer wrote her paper titled 'The Law of Natural Disasters' focusing on the New Zealand Government's response to the Christchurch earthquake in comparison to the US Government's response to Hurricane Katrina.

"The amazing thing about foreign law schools is that you have such a wider range of topics to choose from..." she says, and points out that more diverse specialities are offered in the US.

Is there anything you wish you had studied that wasn't covered?  

"Practical aspects of legal practice is definitely something lacking in New Zealand law schools."

After finishing your studies, did you find the job matched the expectations you had in law school?

"I think when you go through the process of summer clerking and finding a law firm, you just think of all the law firms of being the same… and then you go through the process and you realise they're all different." 

Jennifer chose Buddle Findlay for its cultural aspects along with the people and says "it really exceeded my expectations in that regard." 

Do you think there any issues currently facing young lawyers and/or the legal system as a whole that you would like to highlight?

"I think wellness and mental health is a big issue. I think it's always been an issue, but I think as a society and a community we are starting to focus on it and that has a range of trickle-down effects."

Jennifer attended a conference on 'unconscious bias and resilience' which discussed the importance of mental health: "It's something that people should start teaching, not only in law schools but more generally; how to deal with stress and how to have a work/life balance."   

What are your favourite ways to disengage from the job?

While at university in New Zealand Jennifer was in the Wellington Law Review and this creative outlet helps her disengage from work. She is currently preparing for her role as a Nun in the musical Sister Act which will be playing in Wellington during September.

Do you have any advice for young graduates or lawyers entering the profession? 

"Focus on yourself. In any industry, you can get lost in the job and at some point, you need to re-centre yourself and remember that your job isn't everything."

Last updated on the 15th September 2016