New Zealand Law Society - Megan Potter - the in-houser striving for authenticity

Megan Potter - the in-houser striving for authenticity

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Attending school in Morrinsville from primary to college, Megan Potter was a bit of an ‘all-rounder’; enjoying her academic studies in English, history, science and economics, as well as playing netball and rugby.

After college, Megan went to the University of Waikato, graduating in 2014 with a Bachelor of Laws with First Class Honours. She now works as the in-house lawyer and Trust & Companies Division Manager for accountancy firm CooperAitken in Waikato. She oversees the Morrinsville, Matamata and Thames branches with her team, and manages the firm’s trusts and companies administration, management and compliance requirements.”

Megan says she has always had an interest in being a lawyer from a young age and intended being a family lawyer, and in particular a lawyer for child.

But as with many things in life, it didn’t quite end up that way.

“At university I was also really interested in criminal law and ended up writing my dissertation on youth offending and restorative justice programmes in New Zealand.

“Before graduating, I was lucky to gain a position in a general practice law firm where I worked mainly in property law with some estates and trust work. I gained a great foundation of knowledge and skills and a great deal of learning.

“The case law really brought home the impact of these issues in our communities and, at that point, I questioned the impact it might have on me. I decided it may need to be something I come back to later in life, after getting some life experience under my belt. I’m a soft person at heart and I think I would struggle to separate the emotion of it all.”

Megan says she has a keen interest in affirmations and motivational quotes. She has had to learn to not be so hard on herself and not to expect too much from others, “just because I would be willing to do that much for them”.

One speech in particular has provided considerable motivation.

“At the In-House Law Conference (ILANZ) a couple of years ago we had a presentation from a great American speaker. He spoke of his battles through life and his journey in overcoming them. He spoke about ‘authenticity’ and what it means to be an authentic person. I found this a really valid attribute to strive for, for others to think of you as an authentic person.

“A key piece of advice I took away from this was, in regard to our professional lives, that the same person should walk through the door each morning.”

Has working in the legal profession matched the expectations you had at university?

“Initially, I was convinced that my study had very little impact on my day-to-day work in practice. However, on reflection now, and with more experience, I realise that the foundation skills you learn and develop at university assist you greatly in many facets of your work.

“While studying, I volunteered as a caseworker at the Hamilton Community Law Centre and this experience was invaluable.

“I believe there is a place for more practical learning at university. Professional studies was useful in providing more of a practical approach and more ‘real life’ legal scenarios.”

What’s the difference between working in private practice versus in-house?

“While we’re always busy, I find in-house practice provides more of a work/life balance and is less stressful than being in private practice. I also came into CooperAitken in a management role, which I hadn’t experienced before. People, processes and workflow management are an important part of my role and I really value it – I have learned a great deal in this regard.

“In-house roles were not something that I had ever really heard of while studying or in everyday life. I see these roles on the rise and they are key aspects of businesses.

“I have been lucky enough to have had some success in the in-house industry over the past few years and the journey involved with these accolades have truly shown me the importance of an in-house legal role and that there is a great support network out there.

“I’m lucky to have a great network of professional peers that I work alongside. I have recognised the growth it has enabled in me as well – when I first started in my role I would always take a great deal of time to be prepared and I guess lacked some confidence in my abilities.

“I often don’t know what a client is calling in to discuss or what a query from a professional peer will be – but I can go into a meeting with nothing but me, a pen and paper, and I am confident that I can deal with whatever comes my way.”

How do you unwind after a long day at the office?

“My husband and I have two golden retrievers - our fur babies. After work I look forward to getting out and walking them. I find this a really good way to clear my head and get out in the fresh air after being in the office all day.”

How are you finding the AML/CFT laws two years after implementation?

“My team manages the AML/CFT obligations for the firm and I am the AML Compliance Officer. It has certainly been a learning experience and an adjustment for clients. I believe we have effective processes in place and that this is generally straightforward now.

“I have found it useful being involved in a compliance officers group based in Hamilton, which was initiated by the Waikato branch of the Law Society. We meet once a month to discuss current issues and experiences where we hosted an AML event for our professional peers and discussed this initiative. It makes sense, in terms of efficiency and cost, for both professionals and clients needing to complete the AML CDD process.”

What is the value-add project you lead at CooperAitken?

“I manage the Trust and Companies division, which is a value-add service within the firm. We provide administration, compliance, management and governance services for both trusts and companies, as well as a professional trustee service.

“CooperAitken aim to support clients in many aspects of their businesses, and we offer a number of value-add services, which complement our accountancy services.

“We are in a position where we are lucky enough to be in regular contact with our clients and work alongside them in many aspects of their lives.

“Within my role as in-house lawyer I also work alongside the directors and with clients, in a number of special work projects including succession and estate planning. We have a large rural client base and having grown up in that industry I have a keen interest in rural succession planning. A key focus for my team and I over the next 12 months or so is the Trusts Act 2019.”

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