Growing up in Lower Hutt, Matt Dodd attended Hutt Valley High School for one year and then moved to Wellington College.
"At school I took a mix of arts and science subjects. History was my favourite subject – we had some really outstanding history teachers."
After finishing Wellington College, he moved on to study at the University of Otago in 2008. In his final year of study, Matt became involved with Law for Change, an organisation that encourages New Zealanders to use their legal skills in the public interest, and he is now a trustee of that organisation. He says of his time at Otago: "The memories are great, and the people I met are even greater. I finished five years later with an LLB(Hons) and a BA in Politics in 2012."
"I think you need strong bonds with your colleagues to stay resilient."
In 2013, not long after graduating, Matt returned home to Wellington, pointing out, "I know Wellington has the most lawyers per capita and it really shows – all of my flatmates work in the legal industry."
Wellington is the country's third-most populated city, and has the highest ratio of lawyers to other residents, at one lawyer for every 81 residents (page 26 of Snapshot of a Profession). This will only increase with our law schools pumping out high volumes of young graduates each year.
When did you realise that you wanted to be a lawyer?
Originally wanting to study engineering Matt says, "I don't think there was one definite moment when I decided I would actually practice. It was more a case of talking to graduate lawyers, summer clerking, and in particular volunteering at the Community Law Centre that helped me decide."
During his final year at high school, he attended a lecture taken by the Dean of Law at Otago, Mark Henaghan. "He was talking about the cannibalism case of R v Dudley and Stephens and the intersection of law and morality. It was energetic and stimulating. That got me excited about the law, and keen to study it."
What do you enjoy most about being a lawyer?
"If I had to pick one thing, I would say great colleagues. It never ceases to amaze me how talented the people I work with are. I'm also impressed at how supportive staff are of each other when the going gets tough. It's not an easy job, and I think you need strong bonds with your colleagues to stay resilient."
Matt says he enjoys being trusted by his clients, saying he likes "…being given a window into their world." In 2015, he was on the team that worked on the high profile Lecretia Seales 'assisted dying' case.
What made you lean toward litigation as a speciality?
"It wasn't really a conscious choice. I got put in litigation as a summer clerk and found I liked the people and the variety... Litigation requires you to quickly learn new areas of expertise all the time, and I find the skill of delivering a concise, well-thought out factual theory or legal argument quite satisfying."
Is there anything you wish you had studied in law school that wasn't covered?
"Not really, but I wish I'd taken the Law and Emerging Technologies paper at Otago."
After finishing your studies, did you find the job matched the expectations you had in school?
His first job after university was as a Judges' Clerk and he says, "I didn't really know what to expect. Because of that, there were a lot of surprises. By contrast, by the time it came to leave the Court, I had a reasonable idea of what working at Russell McVeagh would be like because I had friends working here."
Did you find summer clerking helped you to prepare you for the job?
"I don't think it really 'prepares you' per se. There's so much to learn on the job. But it did help me decide who I wanted to work with."
Are there any issues currently facing young lawyers and/or the legal system as a whole that you would like to highlight?
"I think one of the biggest challenges is improving young lawyers' satisfaction with their work. I think that requires senior lawyers to take the time to work out what makes work meaningful for junior staff, and for them too. If we don't make that effort, and don't take care of each other, we will continue to lose junior members of the profession. That will weaken it long term."
Do you have any advice for young graduates or lawyers entering the profession?
"University teaches you critical legal thinking, and gives you a sketch diagram of the content of different areas of law. The challenge (and the fun) has been learning to apply it in a way that is useful for clients. My suggestion is to try things out, own your mistakes, support your colleagues by sharing what you've learnt and have a laugh with them along the way."
What are your favourite ways to disengage from the job?Doing something a little different to relax Matt says, "I've taken up spearfishing recently. I don't get out that much, but it's a fantastic way to disengage from work. It gets you into the outdoors and you are forced to just focus on breathing and what's around you."
Angharad O'Flynn is a New Zealand Law Society journalist.