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NEW IN THE LAW: Charlotte Christmas, Solicitor, Russell McVeagh, Wellington

17 March 2016 - By Angharad O'Flynn

After being awarded a Russell McVeagh scholarship, Charlotte Christmas studied at Victoria University obtaining an LLB and BA in theatre and English studies. Since being admitted in 2015, she has been practising at Russell McVeagh as a commercial lawyer.

When did you realise that you wanted to be a lawyer?

Unsure if she wanted to be a lawyer Charlotte says, "it seemed like a really interesting degree. The papers seemed really interesting and the more I went through it I thought I actually quite like the way this makes you think."

photo of Charlotte Christmas  
"I love the people I work with..." 

She continues, "With the balance of theatre and English, it was quite a nice mix of strategic analysis and quite interesting creative papers as well." 

She also enjoys the social aspect of the job: "…you get a lot of client contact as a junior because you're talking to the clients about what they want and documenting what it is they want recorded."

After finishing study, did you find the job matched the expectations you had in school?

Even though her scholarship prepared her for work she acknowledged it was still a bit of shock transitioning.  Charlotte speaks highly of her employers who supported her: "I had two summers in the firm so when I started as a graduate, I'd done a summer working in the finance team in Wellington and a summer working in the corporate advisory team in Auckland."

What do enjoy most about being a lawyer? 

"There are a lot of things I enjoy about it … I love the people I work with. I was incredibly lucky that I was surrounded by people my own age, who are incredibly awesome."

The translation of information into law is also something she enjoys, comparing the case process to a puzzle that gets broken down and analysed, "…okay so this needs to happen and this needs to happen and if that happens then this happens, and I quite like that."  With the end result being quite fulfilling.

Is there anything you wish you had learned in law school that wasn't covered, either in study or practically? 

"I remember copping quite a lot of flack from various people because I was quite a last-minute kind of person but it is actually a good skill to have at a law firm. When you need to get something done quickly, the fact that you wrote an essay in three months and it was perfect and amazing, doesn't really prepare you for the heat when you need to get something out to a client that day".

Even with this she stresses that "the funny thing about law is that perfection is the only thing that is acceptable. It has to be perfect, you have to have addressed all the legal implications."

Are there any issues currently facing the legal profession that you'd like to highlight?

A lot of the lawyers Charlotte works with are women, and she describes them as "strong". However, she does point out and pose the question "the people in the high-powered roles, to a certain extent, they're men. There are so many girls coming out of law school, why aren't they floating to the top? At Russell McVeagh, 27% of our partners are women, which is the best of the big three law firms, and the firm is actively looking at ways to improve this through its diversity project."  

[Earlier this month printed "New Zealand's Most Female Friendly Law Firms - The 2015 List".  In it are the statistics for large firms with twenty or more partners.  The top five firms overall for female partner ratios, as at 10 February 2016, are: (5) Russell McVeagh with 27% (or 9/33); (4) DLA Piper with 29% (or 7/24); (3) Kensington Swan with 31% (or 9/29); (2) Anderson Lloyd with 33% (or 7/21) and the number one position going to Duncan Cotterill with 37% (or 10/27) of their partners being women.}

There is definitely progress being made in the legal services industry and it is great to see that young female lawyers like Charlotte have the full support of their firms, and are encouraged to climb up the ladder.

Are there any issues currently facing young lawyers that you'd like to highlight?

"I think problems with young lawyers are more specific to who they deal with. Attrition is a bit of an issue in the big firms" - with a lot of the younger lawyers graduating, entering the profession, and then deciding it isn't for them.

Charlotte says burn out can be a factor for some younger lawyers given certain personalities are eager to prove themselves: "You still have to have a life, you still have to have time to exercise and be with your family."

Can you tell me about anyone who inspires you?

Tech entrepreneur Claudia Batten, who formerly worked for Russell McVeagh, is an inspiration. "She is a cool woman who made the decision to do something different and had the guts to go over there [to America] to make it happen. She's a bit of an inspiration." 

What are your favourite books/musicians/movies? 

Charlotte is a self-described "huge Beyonc√© fan" and when asked her to name her favourite song she laughs and says "that's like picking my favourite child." 

She also likes running and participated in the 2015 Queenstown marathon and around the same time also took up yoga.  She has a huge interest in music and while in the Wellington Law Review she musically directed a few projects.

Having something to disengage from work seems to be cherished as after her first year working she realised extra curricular activities are important to keep the work/life balance.  She doesn't like wasting time and has to be doing something.

Angharad O'Flynn is a Wellington-based journalist.

Last updated on the 17th March 2016