Born in Wellington, Simon Gyenge's family moved to Tauranga where he attended Matua Primary School, Otumoetai Intermediate, and Otumoetai College.
After high school, Simon attended the University of Auckland studying a BSc/LLB conjoint degree majoring in Geography.
Upon completing profs, Simon decided to return to Tauranga, joining Lyon O’Neale Arnold Lawyers Ltd in February 2015.
When did you decide to become a lawyer?
“I made the decision about three weeks into my first year at University.”
Simon explains that his passion up to that point had been the environment, but he took on an LLB because of an interest in international politics and diplomacy.
“Once I got to pre-law I realised that if I wanted to get into my second year I had to want to be a lawyer. I haven't looked back after making that decision.”
After finishing your studies did you find the job matched the expectations you had in law school?
"Many people focused on what summer clerkships they were getting and what top firm they were aiming to get a graduate job at."
Simon has always been more people focused, and he found that smaller firms appealed to him more than working in a large firm.
What do you enjoy most about estate planning and property law?
Simon explains that a part of being a lawyer is providing clients with clear advice.
“Estate planning is a complex area of law and is something that touches everyone. Dealing with both discrete transactions and ongoing work provides a good range of diversity in my day as well. I suppose it all comes back to my enjoyment of working with people.”
What drew you to these two speciality areas?
"Estate Planning and Property are at the core of our work and therefore it has been my primary goal over the last 18 months to soak up the knowledge of the directorship at the firm and become proficient at our core work.”
From 2009 to 2015 you were involved as a Volunteer of the United Nations Youth New Zealand. Tell me a bit about your work there, your role and what you took away from your time working for this branch of the UN.
“Firstly, it was an incredible privilege being involved in UN Youth New Zealand. As a Volunteer I was involved for six years; prior to that I was a student delegate involved in the events run by the organisation for five years.
“My main roles in the organisation were as Assistant-Director of the Pacific Project trip to Australia and Vanuatu in 2012, National Relations Officer in 2014, and Assistant-Director of the THIMUN Europe Educational Tour in 2015.”
Simon was also the National Relations Officer. This position involved him managing the strategy for the organisation’s external relationships: “Throughout my involvement with UN Youth I grew and learned not only about international politics, diplomacy, and being civilly active, but also about interacting with people and how to manage personal and professional relationships.”
After your role at UN Youth NZ, you moved on – I assume because you’re no longer considered a ‘youth’ [joking]. You still advise the National Executive - what does this involve?
Laughing, Simon explains “Yes. Technically the United Nations define a “youth” as someone under 25 years so I have clocked out.”
Since leaving the organisation Simon has tried to remain available to assist the Volunteers that have followed; “whether it is from a legal perspective or simply advice on how to deal with difficult situations. I am by no means an expert but have enjoyed the opportunity to give back.”
Is there anything you wish you learnt in law school that wasn't covered?
Sharing something I’ve not heard before Simon says, “Honestly, I wish tax law had been a compulsory paper.”
As well as the absence of a tax law focus, Simon echoes comments of other young lawyers who would have liked more guidance on how to apply the practical skills needed when entering the profession.
"The major difference I have found between studying and the ‘real world’ is that very rarely do matters make it to any kind of formal dispute forum. In law school, it always felt like any legal question of significance was determined by the courts. In life plenty of people are happy to settle based on the balance of probabilities and their legal advice.”
Are there any issues currently facing the legal profession that you would like to highlight?
“A growing area which is creeping into standard estate planning and property work is relationship property matters. Current legislation is onerous and often parties are not aware of their respective positions and the implications of certain actions.
“In our firm, we have been working to integrate this growing area into our core business, however, it still presents new challenges to any standard transaction. It is also changing the way we prepare wills as the implications of poor or ill-informed drafting can be severe.
“I am not sure how the profession can respond or whether there is a 'better' approach than the current legislation.”
Are there any issues currently facing young lawyers that you would like to highlight?
Citing the competitive nature of the post-graduate job hunt, Simon explains "I know personally an issue was finding employment after graduating. It was incredibly tough as a student who did not complete any summer clerkships to even be considered at moderate to large firms for graduate positions.”
“Additionally, most small firms either aren’t equipped or cannot take on the financial risk of having a new graduate. I was lucky in the end but many aren’t and are forced into out areas.”
Simon also broaches the subject of mental health.
It is widely acknowledged that law is one of the most stressful professions and there has been a large concern of late with the attrition rates of young lawyers being linked to burn-out within the first five years of practice.
"Mental health is always a concern in an industry that is geared to promote over-working. Again, I am lucky to work at a firm that (sometimes forcefully) encourages me to arrive at 8:00am and leave at 5:00pm.”
Can you tell me about anyone who inspires you?
Simon draws inspiration from both his family and his colleagues, “…my grandparents came to New Zealand with nothing in 1956 and, in two generations, I am truly blessed to have had the opportunities that I have had to date. My parents worked hard and it is an ethos I endeavour to take into my own life.”
Taking advantage of the senior expertise he is surrounded by at Lyon O’Neale Arnold, Simon says, “as the youngest in the firm I feed off the example they set and the passion they bring to their work.”
What are your favourite books/musicians/movies?
“My guilty pleasure is Matthew Reilly books;I guess if I had to single out some genres, I am most interested in drama/crime, fantasy, and adventure.
“Music - I listen to pretty much anything but my true love is classic rock. Again, with movies I go across the board. I am a big Marvel fan so the new Cinematic Universe has been a treat.”
Do you have ways to disengage from your job to achieve a work/life balance?
“My personal technique is that I allow myself the car ride home to mull over work related matters and have internal discussions about what I need to do. Once I get home my work stays in the car and I am simply at home with my partner living my life. So far it is working but time will tell.”