Tauranga born and raised, and currently a lawyer in his hometown, Blair Shepherd has his sights set on the United States next month.
He has accepted an offer and scholarship to Duke University Law School in North Carolina to study a Master of Laws in International Legal Studies.
The offer was one of seven from United States law schools. Last year, Times Higher Education ranked Duke as the world’s number one law school.
Completing an LLB and BA at the University of Otago, Blair had a general goal to eventually study a Master’s; however he had not anticipated that the United States would be the destination.
“I thought I’d do it on my OE in the UK or Europe. I was thinking of going back to Germany, where I did an exchange during my studies.
“But then last year I did a month-long road trip through the States. I had an incredible time and thought it would be awesome to study at a US law school.”
A bit about yourself...
Blair grew up on a kiwifruit orchard in Pyes Pa, the southern outskirts of Tauranga. He attended Tauranga Boys’ College, getting involved in music and sport.
“Hockey was initially my main sport at school, then I switched to rugby and played for the 2nd XV rugby team, and a bit for the 1st XV.” In 2011 he was Deputy Head Prefect and Arts Dux.
A talented musician, he played trumpet in the school's long-running big-band.
Blair also played trumpet and keys for an indie band with a group of Tauranga Boys’ College boys.
“A record deal was offered a week before we went off to university. It threw a spanner in the works,” he adds. The band went on to record two EPs and play some large gigs, including opening a summer concert for Belgian DJ Netsky.
At university, Blair started to sing lead vocals and play guitar in a few bands and co-hosted a radio show on Radio One 91FM for several years.
Blair’s legal studies began at the University of Otago in 2012 where he studied double degree – an LLB and a BA majoring in Politics, Philosophy and Economics. “One reason I went there, it’s the only place I could do law, politics and economics in a double degree,” he says. “Anywhere else I would have had to do a double or triple major in my second degree.”
During the double degree, Blair went on a half-year exchange to the University of Tübingen, Germany, and did summer clerkships at two Tauranga firms: Mackenzie Elvin in 2014 and Holland Beckett in 2015/16, the latter for whom he would become part of the Litigation and Disputes Resolution team the following year.
A global scale
Blair chose Duke for its strong reputation, relatively small LLM class, student-focused faculty and location in a warm and sports-mad student city, he explains.
The only Antipodean in a class of 102, he intends to focus on international arbitration, trade and climate change.
Options on the table are new for Blair to consider, but the year in the States may be part of a larger OE. His sights have been set on Europe, where he intends to look at practising.
Duke’s LLM programme concludes in May 2020, and Blair plans to sit the New York Bar exam in July 2020.
Roots in Tauranga
When asked about what motivated him to return to Tauranga, Blair noted that the regions shouldn’t be so quickly discounted.
“It wasn’t my plan to return to Tauranga straight after university, but I’d loved my rotation in litigation as a summer clerk at Holland Beckett and felt that the combination of big cases and getting into court at an early stage would be a great way to start my career. You’re given a lot of responsibility from day one and get to appear in court as soon as you’re admitted.”
His firm is an institution of Tauranga, and Blair says Holland Beckett offered him invaluable experience which will stand him in good stead for his studies overseas. “You’re often up against those big city names.
“When deciding upon where to practise, you shouldn’t discard areas beyond New Zealand’s main centres. It can be much more than the stereotypical fencing disputes.”
Evidently so, the opportunity to get on trusts and boards at such a young age demonstrate Blair’s contribution to his region.
Being on the board of Merivale Community Inc and a Trustee of the Bay of Plenty Youth Development Trust (trading as Tauranga Boxing Academy) has been immensely rewarding.
The Trust’s operation of the boxing academy helps a focus on kids aged 9 to 18 to find direction. Expanding from well-known Tauranga Gym FitCo, the Academy has recently moved into its brand new, purpose-built boxing gym on the Strand, a waterfront-facing stretch of Tauranga’s lower CBD.
Blair’s relatability to the Trust’s cause meant he was a perfect fit to help with their goals. “The chair was excited to have someone young on board. The Trust works with local youth so he thought that it would be good to have a trustee who was that age not long ago.”
“It’s been great to see the work of people like our Head Coach Henry Fa’afili, a former New Zealand Warrior - he’s turning lives around,” he adds.
From the local community to global litigation, there are lessons to be taken along the way. Asked what the most important lesson has been from his legal experience so far, Blair ponders the reality of the situations in which he works.
“You can make all the academic legal arguments you want for each case, but there’s also the practical side when you’re acting for real people and considering what’s in their best interests.
"There’s strategy involved, like chess. There are some litigators with a great knowledge of the law and then there are lawyers who are great strategists; it’s about combining both.”