Sophie Harrigan was born and rasied in Tauranga. She attended Welcome Bay Primary School, Tauranga Intermediate and Tauranga Girls’ College.
After College Sophie studied law at the University of Waikato, graduating in 2014 with a Bachelor of Laws.
Shortly after graduating she moved to London to gain work experience.
"I like that no day is ever the same..."
She made use of the United Kingdom's informal role as a travel hub, saying, "I also wanted to take up as many of the travel opportunities as I could that came with living in London.”
After two exciting years in London, Sophie has moved back to her hometown of Tauranga and she now works at the Tauranga office of Sharp Tudhope as a solicitor in the Litigation team.
What do you enjoy most about being a litigator?
“I like that no day is ever the same, there is such a variety in the work that it keeps me constantly interested.”
When did you make the decision to study and practice as a lawyer? And was there a particular experience that swayed your decision?
"At school, I had always wanted to follow in my father’s footsteps and become a Chemical Engineer. It wasn’t until I discovered I was actually terrible at chemistry that one of my teachers suggested I should consider a career in law.
"After doing some research into what was involved with a law degree, I decided the papers all seemed interesting and something that I would enjoy."
What was your experience like working in large, UK law firms?
Both London offices are in the informally named ‘Magic Circle’, which consists of five top tier London law firms.
These firms excel in finance, corporate, and banking specialities with Clifford Chance and Slaughter and May ranking at numbers one and five respectively. The firms are also renowned for making their graduates work very hard.
Sharing her experiences at Slaughter and May Sophie says “...I spent just under a year at Slaughters and during this time worked solely for one client; a large European bank who had been involved in transactions with one of the collapsed Icelandic banks.”
Sophie shares that her client’s claim was worth over $500 million.
Very few firms in New Zealand work with claims that large and Sophie says "…it was a great opportunity to be involved in a huge piece of litigation."
“The workload was at times is very intense, and I definitely did not experience the worst of it. It was not at all uncommon for lawyers to not sleep for three days or to be finishing at 7 in the morning only to be turning up again at 9. The firms almost encourage you to spend long hours at work in that on-site…”
Many of these firms cater to their staff’s long working hours.
Slaughter and May provide eating, exercise, laundry and showering facilities, and a pool: "I did hear rumours there were sleep pods somewhere but I never saw these myself. The main London office building was home to around 1000 staff.”
She continues, “However, the best thing about working at Slaughters was the people. I made so many great friends there who I think I will always stay in touch with. Everyone was really approachable. If I had questions, there was always someone to help out."
"I would really recommend working in London to any young lawyers. While it was challenging at times, it was great work experience, and London is such a gateway to all of the exciting destinations in Europe.”
Can you give some comparative insight into the differences between NZ and UK firms?
“One thing I didn’t like about the UK firms is that there is quite a bit of separation between lawyers and support staff. I like that in New Zealand, and particularly at this firm, that does not happen.
“I also found it a bit strange that litigation solicitors in the UK do not appear in Court (at the big firms at least)." Elaborating, “Everything is briefed out to a barrister and during the trial, solicitors sit at the back and do not appear at all.”
Is there anything you wish you learnt in law school that wasn’t covered?
“Like most other young lawyers, I think there needs to be a more practical component to law school.”
Do you think there are any issues facing lawyers or the legal profession?
“I think for some lawyers burn-out can be a problem. It is important to ensure that you keep a healthy work/life balance.”
Upon hearing this, it seems like some UK firms could learn a little from New Zealand about our Practising Well initiatives to avoid staff burnout.
Can you tell me about anyone who inspires you?
Sophie enjoys where she works saying, “Since starting at Sharp Tudhope I have found it very inspiring, [there are] a number of leading female lawyers in the firm.”
"In particular I have been able to do work under Shima Grice and Karen Gravatt who are both so knowledgeable in their areas and have proven to be very successful. It is inspiring being able to learn from other women that are so willing to assist junior lawyers.”
Litigation can be quite stressful – do you have any hobbies or interests that you do to help you disengage and have some work/life balance?
“I try to get away and go to a gym class at least several times a week at lunchtime, as I find this really helps me to switch off for an hour and come back feeling refreshed."
Continuing, "I am also really lucky in that the partners here are very conscious of workloads. During the weekends I like to spend time with my partner, family and friends and going out for meals and socialising.”