By Angharad O’Flynn
Born in the Philippines, Car San Diego came to New Zealand to visit but fell in love - and the rest is history.
After being admitted to the bar in August 2016, Car worked at a large law firm in Tauranga before joining Rejthar Stuart Law.
Working closely with named partners Chris Rejthar and Pat Stuart, Car now helps advise on a wide range of property and commercial matters, including retirement villages, family trusts and estate planning.
Tell me a bit about your tertiary studies in the Philippines and how it differs from study in New Zealand?
“It has been a long time since I graduated college/university in the Philippines.
“My proudest and favourite memory, besides graduating, was when I organised a careers expo on campus in my junior year. The whole experience and networking helped me land an internship at Sun Microsystems Philippines and Microsoft Philippines which was a compulsory part of any qualification.
“Studying in New Zealand was definitely a whole new ball game for me. It was a lot harder on a social level especially being an adult migrant student - let alone studying with a pre-schooler and a bun in the oven between my sophomore and junior years.
“I live in Tauranga so I had to travel to Hamilton to attend the lectures. It could be very stressful trying to get assignments done on time. For me it meant no social life and a lack of sleep. I had a friend who I carpooled with, and then recorded the lectures during the last trimester of my pregnancy to save me from travelling. I am blessed to have had support through those struggles, and it helps when we have someone to remind us that we are capable and strong even when we fail to see it ourselves.”
How does your Management Information Systems and Bachelor of Commerce help your legal work?
“The Bachelor of Commerce focuses on organisations and how they use and manage information. Information systems plays a central role in legal practice: not only does it support the objectives of every business but it also provides employees the necessary tools to perform their jobs efficiently, thereby saving time and increasing productivity. Time is valuable for legal practitioners and that’s what you lose when you underinvest in technology.
“I have always been fascinated by technology and how and why it is used in business. My degree not only taught me technical knowledge but also the ability to quickly adapt to changing trends. I love learning new ways to implement the way I practise, using technology that will help me stay organised and to ensure my time is spent wisely.”
Why did you choose to work in property and trust law?
“My parents own a small family business specialising in new home builds.
“I remember the days when I used to help them draft building contracts (more like filling in the blanks) and payment claims as they fell due, using the standard templates prepared by their lawyer.
“It’s therefore not surprising that I had a keen interest in property when I decided to study law and when you have assets or property, then it makes sense to consider estate planning. A family trust can offer protection if properly established and managed.
“The work is definitely interesting and engaging. There is always a new question, somewhat related to your previous dealings but not exactly the same. I find it very fulfilling to help people achieve their objectives.
Why did you choose to practise law in New Zealand?
“Apart from living in here and having studied my law degree here, New Zealand is a perfect place for someone who is seeking balance in their professional and personal commitments.”
Is there anything you wish you had been taught in law school that wasn't covered?
“The reality is that employers do not feel that graduates are well prepared for the workplace. When I started at my first job, I certainly felt out of my depth.
“For sure, students can excel at writing legal opinions with lots of citations, but these are far different than writing business letters and legal documents.
“I think law school has provided me with the necessary foundations; to expect much more is unrealistic. The bulk of actual training occurs when you start your legal career.
“Law school, however, should consider partnering with private practice and companies, government agencies or local authorities to set students up with an internship (paid or unpaid) so students will have a better sense of how a workplace runs, a chance to experience how to actually deal and interact with clients (not role playing) and learn practice management software to prepare them once they get out of university and suppress the ‘skills gap’.
“As Aristotle goes on to say: ‘For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them’.”
Are there any issues currently facing lawyers and/or the legal system as a whole that you'd like to highlight?
“I cannot stress the importance of mentors in the legal profession, especially for new lawyers.
“I am lucky enough to have a law firm mentor that fits my values, but very few have had the chance to be guided.
“I didn’t come from a family of lawyers so I knew I needed to reach out to someone who could give me some guidance. Owen Cooney has given me a great start in my legal career and for that, I will always be grateful. Everything I know now I have learnt through my mentors. A huge thank you to Kelly Bek, Jody Renwick, and the fantastic duo Chris Rejthar and Pat Stuart, whose support and guidance has been most appreciated.
How did you find working through the Lockdown, and how have you been keeping your work/life balance in check?
“How the way we work has changed over the past month, though working from home is not something new to me. I feel very fortunate to work for employers (including previous ones) who allow staff to work flexibly, ie, being able to work from home if need be to meet the needs of my family.”
Car has two children and spends as much of her spare time with her family as possible. She places great importance on maintaining a work/life balance.
“This situation is unprecedented and essentially it is like carrying out two full-time jobs – coping with the demands of parenting and assisting with their home learning while supercharging your work-from-home productivity.
“It is important to create a schedule that works for me and at the same time keeping my kids engaged and busy. Yes, that includes getting more screen time. Having a supportive employer makes a huge difference.”
Can you tell me about anyone who inspires you?
“The majority of people would have a definite response as to who inspires them, but there is simply not one person for me. I am inspired by those who have overcome life’s challenges to accomplish what they set out to do.
“Reality has a way of reminding us that no matter how hard we try, we will always have those days when we think the world is against us. It’s through difficult times that we learn important lessons in life and build resilience.”
Angharad O’Flynn email@example.com is a Wellington-based journalist.