New Zealand Law Society - NEW IN THE LAW: Shaun Burmester, WCM Legal, Wellington

NEW IN THE LAW: Shaun Burmester, WCM Legal, Wellington

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Shaun Burmester grew up in Tauranga with his sister and parents. They lived on a small lifestyle block that had an avocado orchard.  

“Mum stayed home and looked after us until I was a teenager, at which point she retrained as a secondary school teacher.

“Dad has always been an accountant… Mum and Dad prized lifestyle balance and choices over career, so we had a lot of family time growing up which looking back on, I appreciate as it was a really positive childhood overall.”

After a couple of years at a local primary school, Shaun started at Bethlehem College at year 3, a school that teaches from primary age right through until year 13. After high school, Shaun moved to Wellington to attend Victoria University.

What made you decide to become a lawyer?

“From intermediate school and up people always suggested I should go into law as they perceived me to be good with wording, language, and understanding and applying concepts. That prompted me to look into it a bit, ask some questions, and get a feel for whether it would be something I would like to do.”

Shaun experienced mixed views from some of the lawyers he met “…some recommended the profession, and others said to stay as far from it as I could. Different experiences I guess.

“Nonetheless, it appeared interesting and overtime it developed into my career path of choice.  By the time I left school I was firmly set on studying law and becoming a lawyer.”

What did you study at University?

At Victoria University, Shaun studied toward an LLB and BCom in Economics.

“I did macroeconomics [study of large-scale economic factors] as microeconomics [evaluating decisions made by individual consumers and firms] has far too much math involved.  

“In Law, I focused on more commercial stuff; insolvency, competition, banking and finance etc.  I loved this area of law, and did choose papers around it.  I do regret not expanding my horizons a little into more practical stuff like civil procedure or dispute resolution, or explore other areas like family.”  

After finishing your studies, did you find the job matched the expectations you had in school?  How did you find the transition from education to practice?

“At the end of my second year at Uni, I managed to land a job at my current employer, WCM Legal, as a Law Clerk…

“I worked part time for two years until the final semester of my university, at which point I moved to full-time work while completing a couple of BCom papers for points and also doing Legal Professionals part time.  So by the time I finished my studies I was comfortable with the workplace.  

“I guess at the point in time of entering the workforce, the job was not exactly how I imagined it.  You’re aware that it will not be like TV or the movies, but you do get an idea that there will be lots of court work, lots of face time with clients and other lawyers, and lots of new cases and issues.  

“In reality, there is instead lots of sitting behind your desk, lots of emails and phone calls, and lots of time spent on the same files or broad matters, as many issues can take a long time to resolve depending on the situation.  

“That said, media does not capture the enjoyment you can derive from getting a satisfying result following hard work and effort, or from a happy client who is pleased with how everything turned out for them.”

What do enjoy most about being a lawyer?

“No day is the same. Of course, there's a degree of predictability, and certain files and work types will follow a similar pattern, but even with them, there is variation just due to the clients themselves and the specific subject matter.

“Other files and work areas tend to be a lot more fluid and demand a greater degree of creativity and critical thinking to carry you through and get the result the client wants (or at least a result that is realistic when you factor everything in!).

“I enjoy the challenge it presents, as there are always tricky questions or situations to look at and work out a solution for. There is almost never a black and white answer, and there are usually a dozen ways to achieve something, and you need to help the client choose and pursue the one that gives them the best outcome, taking into account time, risk, money, and all other factors relevant to them.”  

What do you like about working in general practice?

“The breadth of the work. While I certainly have not worked in all areas of law, I have worked on a variety of files like employment, private client, general commercial, insolvency, civil disputes and litigation, and more. Rarely does a file also stay in just one area, and the ability to draw on experience from a variety of different fields really does help immensely.”  

Is there anything not included in the New Zealand law school curriculum that you think might benefit students?

I think one complaint that arises, again and again, is the lack of practical skills in law school, although, I also think that law school is aimed at trying to develop your critical thinking and knowledge base, and you can pick up the practical side of things when you hit the workforce.”  

Are there any issues facing young lawyers in New Zealand and/or the New Zealand legal profession in general that you think need to be addressed?

The rate at which lawyers drop out these days is remarkable. I cannot quote statistics, and this may not be as widespread of an issue as I think, but from my limited experience a lot of people burn out pretty quickly, just over a few years, and stop practising.  

“The Law Society has driven Practising Well and tries to encourage it, however, I don’t think it is truly appreciated by most young lawyers until the work, stress, burdens and everything else start to affect them too much, at which point it might be too late.  

“A healthy work-life balance is essential for anyone's wellbeing, and really, if you can't have one, then what’s the point of working?”

Any hobbies?

Shaun describes himself as a “Standard Young Wellingtonian…[I] spend too much on eating out, buying things, and hospitality with friends.”  

He also enjoys going for walks around Wellington and the wider region.

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