AYL Committee Deputy Convenor, Maria Sopoaga interviews Tila Hoffman
When did you start your legal career and where?
I began my legal career in 1988 at a top tier firm in New Mexico. I was part of the litigation team based in Albuquerque, and I received incredible training, mentoring and support. I developed many lifelong friendships and strong client relationships during my time there.
Having practised both in the US and in NZ, you’ve experienced the law in vastly different environments. What do you think they could learn from each other?
There are many differences between the two, but both countries could learn from each other.
The US could learn about addressing physical risk from New Zealand. Many US insurance companies restrict certain physical activities to reduce exposure to claims. For example, my local primary school did not want children to run in the playground because they were getting hurt. New Zealand’s ACC Scheme is unique and the bar against personal injury claims makes this country a very special place.
I believe New Zealand could learn from the US about taking more calculated business risks. Organisations here seem to have a fear of failing and I think this can hold us back a bit. New Zealand could also learn about streamlining and making things easier - sometimes it seems we overcomplicate relatively simple issues, but this may come from a fear of failing.
You now work in quite a non-traditional role at MinterEllisonRuddWatts. How did that come about and what does it entail?
This is a tough question to answer succinctly because every role I’ve had in my career has led to something else.
The short answer is that I’m naturally curious and solutions focused. I like to visualise what can be and then actually turn the vision into reality. My current role allows me to draw on my experiences as a lawyer (in private practice and in-house roles here and overseas), to think about how a little (or big) change can positively impact our lawyers and clients. I get to identify pain points, consider and trial options, implement solutions and support our people and our clients to ensure solutions are embedded and actually have a positive impact.
Legal innovation has created that opportunity for me and I feel incredibly fortunate to be part of a firm that deeply values innovation.
With the onslaught of technology and legal innovation, what do you think the law should be doing better to adapt with these changes?
In my opinion, our value as lawyers is our ability to communicate, develop trusting relationships and be in “partnership” with our clients. To be a trusted advisor and partner, you need to focus attention on your client’s business. If you streamline processes and embed some legal tech into your organisation, you will have the time to truly focus on your client. If you don’t, another lawyer will.
What do you think young lawyers coming up the ranks now have that young lawyers didn’t 10 years ago? In the same breath, what do you think young lawyers could do more of?
There is much more opportunity to focus on learning to be a lawyer today than 10 years ago. The changes being implemented now will reduce repetitive work and make it easier to deliver quality services to clients. With better systems and tools lawyers will get to focus on truly becoming part of their clients’ businesses.
I believe young lawyers today should focus on learning to be good lawyers, which means learning to think like lawyers, identify issues and problem solve, communicate and develop relationships. These lessons take time and experience. Legal tech now is intuitive, and young lawyers have the technology knowhow because they have grown up with it. Using legal tech should be business as usual for them – and an advantage.
Do you have any hobbies outside of work?
I have created a good balance between my career and spending time doing the things that protect my wellbeing generally. I love tennis and Zumba. I also do a bit of yoga and attend occasional running events. Like all Kiwis, I love to travel. I am also an avid reader and I do sudoku to relax.
Lastly, any final advice for young lawyers?
Develop your own path. Learn the most that you can from as many different people as you can and take the lessons onboard but not literally. Use what works for you and your goals – it is your career and you decide it. Work hard while also tending to yourself, your family and your community.
Last updated on the 1st November 2019