New Zealand Law Society - Jackie Mulligan, former lawyer, business owner and current Recruitment Manager at Simpson Grierson

Jackie Mulligan, former lawyer, business owner and current Recruitment Manager at Simpson Grierson

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You were previously a commercial litigation lawyer, then became a barrister before co-founding a recruitment company and later moving to Simpson Grierson as a Recruitment Manager. Can you tell us about your transition from law to recruitment?

I started as a civil/commercial litigation lawyer, then worked in the UK for a government department and later returned to New Zealand, practising litigation with a focus on professional indemnity. I took leave to start my family and was working 3 days per week at the time, which was uncommon. After the barrister I was mainly working for tragically passed away, I reflected on what I wanted to do next. I decided to take greater control over my work and join the Bar. I didn’t want the commitment of having to run my own cases, so I offered to work as a second in charge for other barristers. I ended up being flooded with work and started giving it to some of my friends (mostly other lawyers looking for part time work). From that, my friend and I saw a large gap in the market for part-time lawyers and co-founded a legal recruitment firm which focused on utilising lawyers who wanted to work part-time. We started with 10 lawyers (including ourselves) but it grew so quickly that my friend and I stopped doing the legal work ourselves and focused on the business. I did this for 14 years until only a couple of years ago I decided it was time for a change and moved to Simpson Grierson as their Recruitment Manager.

What’s one thing that helped you establish your business while not having any formal training or other business experience at the time?

I found it was really important to have a business plan. My business partner and I knew the legal profession well, but were inexperienced in recruitment before establishing the business. The best thing we did was make a business plan to figure out what we knew and what we needed to learn. After identifying the gaps, we approached anybody who we thought could help us in the areas we lacked expertise and we spent months talking to and learning from other people.

You are an advocate for flexible working in the legal profession. In your experience, are you seeing a greater shift in the younger generation of lawyers ask for greater flexibility and how does this look in practice?

Yes — absolutely. Flexibility has changed significantly from when I first practised law. Over the years, the law has lost many talented lawyers due to its relatively inflexible and traditional career model. The younger generation of lawyers define work goals quite differently and value flexible working. Flexibility has become increasingly important for lawyers that we’re seeing come through and it’s no longer being framed as a female/parenting issue, but something that all lawyers can ask for. The current culture is ripe for people to ask for it.

In terms of what flexible working looks like in practice — this can be reduced or fluid hours, working from home, extra leave etc. The challenge for us in People and Culture is to make sure we’re delivering on that. The challenge for lawyers is to ensure they have good communication with colleagues and clients around flexible arrangements. In my experience, the expectations of our clients are not as extreme as we usually think they are and if we’re clear what the boundaries are, they will usually be okay with that.

You have over 15 years’ experience in legal recruitment and have therefore seen many applicants go through the recruitment process. What are some of the common pitfalls you’ve seen people make when applying for jobs?

  • The application being too generic and not personalised to the firm/role is a common one. It signals that the same application may have been fired off to a number of firms, so there may not be enthusiasm for the particular role. This is commonly flagged as something to avoid when applying, but people still do it.
  • Applying for too many roles in the same firm can also sometimes not be a good look, especially when the roles are quite different.
  • Being too conservative and not conveying any information on who you are is also a common one. Don’t be afraid to put personality in your CV and cover letter — this information will help your application stand out and be memorable.

Some junior lawyers often feel like they fall into an area of practice depending on the first job they get after graduating. What advice would you give lawyers who are wanting to change their area of practice?

Changing specialisations is not uncommon for junior lawyers. You just need to show some passion for why you want to pursue another area of law and show how you can utilise your existing skills in a new role. Talk to your friends in other firms to find out what roles are open (most firms have good referral policies) or just approach firms and explain why you want to change your area of practice. The market is currently tight for anyone with 2 or more years’ experience so it’s a good time to make the change.

We would like to thank NZLS AYL committee member, Zena Razoki for providing this article for young lawyers.

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