Nic Popham grew up in Invercargill with his parents, brother and sister. He studied at James Hargest College and after finishing, went on to Dunedin to study Law and Commerce at Otago University in 2010.
"After five years I finished with an LLB and four-fifths of a BCom. I might finish the BCom one day but I wanted to get out of Dunedin before my sister started there."
Nic was admitted to the bar in August of 2015.
When did you realise that you wanted to be a lawyer?
"Mum always said I should be a lawyer because I was good at arguing, but it was a careers advisor who talked me into adding the LLB to my BCom in first year Uni.
"I wasn't sure if it was what I wanted to do, but I stuck with it as there was nothing else I could see myself doing. It wasn't until I summer clerked at Cruickshank Pryde that I decided I wanted to be a lawyer after graduating."
What do you enjoy most about being a solicitor? And what made you lean toward your chosen speciality?
Nic would like to specialise in property law because he enjoys the wide variety of work: "I enjoy dealing with clients in positive transactions. I couldn't see myself doing family or criminal law but I admire the lawyers that do."
Other property lawyers have said that a major perk of this speciality area are the diverse files you work on and interesting people you can work with, and Nic is no exception. He tells a story about a case he worked on sharing:
"One of the most interesting files involved clients whose mother inherited a share of a property overseas back in the 1930s. Our clients had no knowledge of this until a summons was published in our local newspaper, as it turned out the property was in the middle of a large oil refinery in the States. I dealt with a lawyer over there that loved the All Blacks, and he's planning on bringing his family to New Zealand for a holiday so we've kept in touch."
Is there anything you wish you learnt in law school that wasn't covered?
"I wish there were more practical assessments as I think they prepare you more for the real world. Profs was really beneficial, but there's nothing like actual work experience."
After finishing your studies, did you find the job matched the expectations you had in school?
Sharing a brutally honest response, he says, "I had really low expectations of starting out in law due to hearing the generic stories about graduates having to work late nights doing really repetitive work."
However, Nic was lucky with his firm saying, "…my job has been the exact opposite of that. I've been encouraged to have the right balance, and was thrown into the deep end with the range/level of work I was involved in."
As a lot of people will know, the first few years of working as a junior can be gruelling and repetitive and, in some firms, was seen as a rite of passage. The high number of long work days and attitudes toward work/life balance in some New Zealand firms has contributed to high mental burn out and drop out rates among young practitioners.
Leading by example is key and it is great news when young lawyers like Nic share that his employers recognise the importance of mental health and work/life balance.
Are there any issues currently facing young lawyers and/or the legal system as a whole that you'd like to highlight?
"It's hard coming out of Uni after five years of study to only get paid slightly above minimum wage a year. I was fortunate enough to be in a position to move back home, but when friends in other professions are able to get $15-20k more initially, it definitely makes me wonder if I chose the right path."
What are your favourite ways to disengage from the job?
"I play a few social sports throughout the week with a group of mates. It's good to have something to look forward to after work. I'm a proud member of the seventh-equal best social mixed corporate touch team in Invercargill."
Angharad is a Wellington journalist.