David Stoevelaar was admitted as a barrister and solicitor of the High Court in July 2018. He is a solicitor with Invercargill law firm Preston Russell Law.
Tell us a bit about yourself
“I was born in the King Country and always had a passion for helping others. I am of Māori descent with my whakapapa being Ngati Porou, Hicks Bay Gisborne, and New Zealand European being English, Irish and Dutch.
“I have an older sister and younger brother. When I was a child our family moved several times for work and education, and I ended up attending high school at St John’s College in Hamilton.
“After high school, I attended Otago University where I was enrolled in the School of Physical Education. During my time studying I completed extracurricular papers in Science and Law and always felt drawn to the law and education.
“After finishing my Bachelor of Science, majoring in Exercise and Sport Science, I attended the University of Waikato to complete my Post-Graduate Diploma in Secondary School Teaching. This led me to being Head of Department for Physical Education, Science and Assistant Principal of the Senior School at Te Wharekura O Te Kaokaoroa O Pātetere in Putaruru, South Waikato.
“It is here that I met my fiancé, Dione, and together we have a young daughter, Sophie, who is now three years old.
“During my time teaching, I was able to work alongside the Ministry of Education moderators which led me to creating tailored physical education and science achievement standards that suited the needs of Māori students. This increased my passion for helping others and gave me the idea of helping evolve the education system in New Zealand. Eventually I built up the courage to enrol in the School of Law at the University of Waikato.
“While working full time I completed my degree in just over two years along with extra papers to become a certified Mediator and Arbitrator.
“I was fortunate to be offered a full time job at Preston Russell Law in Invercargill which, at the time, was overwhelming and nerve wracking as neither I nor my partner had ever been to Invercargill. At the same time it felt like everything was falling into place as the position was in my desired area (Commercial and Property law).
Did you find any of your education background transferable into law?
“When transitioning into law, I found that having life experience dealing with conflicts (discipline with students, communicating with parents and the community and organising events), having confidence, good people and communication skills, and understanding the importance of having a good rapport with people, made the transition into law that much easier.
“Teaching taught me the importance of understanding and seeing matters from another perspective, which I think is paramount when applying the law to all situations.
“When facilitating a mediation, I find my teaching strategies highly effective as it helps create a safe environment where others feel valued and comfortable and being able to judge when someone is agitated, uncomfortable or upset.
“Without having learnt these skills in teaching, I would have had a difficult time structuring a safe environment and being comfortable taking a mediation.”
What do you enjoy most about working as a commercial law solicitor and as a mediator?
“The most enjoyable aspect of work is helping clients to achieve their goal – like buying a house - or being able to help an individual work through issues they may be experiencing via mediation.
“I enjoy the learning I get from each commercial matter whether it is preparing a lease or assisting with a property transaction as every matter is different. I believe this is where some learning comes from and drives me to expand on my knowledge.”
After finishing your studies, did you find the job matched the expectations you had in uni?
“Not at all, it has exceeded my expectations and is completely different.
“I found everything I learnt at university was a baseline and the real learning took place while working.
"University has a structured way of completing tasks and is aligned with their learning objectives. Working in a law firm has showed me the importance of understanding the law but also the importance of having a structure for tasks building up to the final outcome.”
Is there anything you wish you had been taught in law school that wasn't covered?
“Going into more detail around what is actually involved with commercial law rather than applying the law to situations. For example, more practical work experiences. This learning really only takes place if you have an internship."
Can you tell me about anyone who inspires you?
“My father, partner and daughter, supervising partner James Cambridge and Managing Partner Mary-Jane Thomas (Crown Solicitor).
“Each person has taught me the importance of being myself, having confidence and allowing me to grow without having to worry about asking for help when needed.
“My dad has shown me how to achieve personal goals while remaining true to myself and beliefs. There is no issue or hurdle in life I can’t get through. Of course, my family is a huge motivation and major contribution to what I have and am starting to achieve both personally and professionally."
Practising law is stressful. What activities do you do after work to decompress after a long day?
"Family activities, sport, cooking and having a glass of wine with my partner."