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The Otago New Practitioners' Group provides education, social and networking events for new and young lawyers.
The group meets regularly. The Group elects a representative to the Otago Branch Council. The representative is Charlie Hantler (firstname.lastname@example.org).
This article was written by New Practitioners' Group representative Adam Keith and was published in Cur Adv Vult issue 57, 22 April 2016.
Everyone has a memory of starting out in the profession. Some notable ones I have heard from more experienced practitioners include, being given half a dozen files on the first day and sent down to court to meet clients and see what could be sorted out, starting as the law clerk running errands in short pants, and (going back quite a way here) being in charge of lighting the fires in the fireplaces around the office (most probably in short pants). Modern practices and attires vary, and are much more likely to include phrases like induction and office policy, but there is still consistently the universal element of feeling at some stage that you are in the deep end of things.
Out of the approximately 407 lawyers in the Otago branch 86 or so fall in to the new practitioners category, approximately 21% of the local profession. Out of this 86, 29 are male (33%) and 57 female (66%), 21 are in Queenstown, a handful in smaller centres, and the remainder in Dunedin.
The definition of a new practitioner varies, but in Otago it has been set at someone in the first seven years of practice. This has been purposefully distinguished from 'young lawyers' in order to not appear biased against the 'new' but less 'young'. Interestingly different branches have labels for these groups, Canterbury, Wellington and most others go with 'young', ADLS with 'RAM's' (Recently Admitted Members), whereas Southland and Nelson have very inclusive groups for 'New and Young'.
To add to the confusion there is also a separate Dunedin Young Professionals group. DYP is a larger group that is not affiliated with any professional body, and also open to other professions such as accountants and engineers.
Semantics aside, the purpose of the group is to provide support and representation for new practitioners in the region. The group is open not only to lawyers who hold practicing certificates, but also others who hold a law degree and either work in associated fields (the most common of these being the law school), or are recently admitted and looking or work.
The groups activity generally consists of Dunedin based monthly events, being either coffee, dinner, or some other activity which provide a good chance for practitioners to catch up, network, gossip, complain about billing and other topics. Practitioners in Queenstown also arrange informal lunch catch ups for those based there.
The group provides a way to meet in an informal setting, and discuss issues which are common for people starting out careers. It can be especially useful for practitioners at smaller firms who may not have much or even any contact with other solicitors in similar experience brackets at their workplaces. The transition from the academics of law school to the practicalities of the billable unit, debt recovery, drafting correspondence and navigating the reality of the lawyer client relationship, or the first conversation with an emotional client commonly come up.
Getting the foot in the door is generally thought of as the biggest hurdle for a new practitioner. Each year there are approximately new 1650 law graduates. Of this 900 around are admitted, but only 60% of these, around 540, go on to get a practicing certificate. Once the job is secured though, adjusting to the jump from studies into a competitive and demanding profession, and basically working out if it is what you want to do is the next tricky step. There are common concerns about the reasonably high turnover of new practitioners. A noticeable number decide that despite the considerable investment, practicing law is not for them. On recent data, the percentage of admitted solicitors who hold a practicing certificate drops from 60% to below 50% within 6 years. How many of those are just overseas vs. how many are leaving the profession is not clear. Looking in Dunedin alone, the last three new practitioners' representatives are no longer working as solicitors (I didn't want to risk looking back any further than that to see how strong the tradition is).
Interestingly a study is currently being completed by the Law Society and Otago University regarding the experience and retention of new graduates in the legal profession. They study involves interviews, as well as surveying new practitioners about their experiences. A number of local practitioners have participated and results are expected sometime this year.
Luckily Otago does have a very supportive profession with plenty of opportunities for engaging with other practitioners. The relatively smaller size often means much greater scope for getting involved, and its relatively easy to end up responsible for something (even if you many not have originally intended, such as being the new practitioners rep). As always it is great to have the support those fellow practitioners to provide, as they always have done with the apprentice like life of a new practitioner. The extension of this is what the new practitioners group aims to do (along with the occasional BYO).
Finally, we are always on the lookout for activities that may be of interest (previous items have included bowling, a tour of the old prison, boat trips, and the new practitioners quiz which will hopefully return when time allows) so if there is anything that you think may be of interest please feel free to let us know.