New Zealand Law Society - NEW IN THE LAW: Sophie Barclay, Solicitor, Zindels, Nelson

NEW IN THE LAW: Sophie Barclay, Solicitor, Zindels, Nelson

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Sophie Barclay
Sophie Barclay

She was born in Nelson, but Sophie Barclay's family moved to Wellington when she was 10 months old. Her brother is currently at university studying surveying, while her mother works for ACC and her father teaches English in China. 

"A lot of the research stuff is really fun." 

Sophie attended Wellington Girl's College and completed her tertiary education at Victoria University where, after five years of study, she graduated in 2014 with a double degree: a Bachelor of Law and a Bachelor of Arts in History and Classical studies.  Sophie joined Nelson law firm Zindels Barristers and Solicitors in 2014, before being admitted in September the same year.

When did you realise that you wanted to be a lawyer?

While Sophie has always been interested in the law, it wasn't until her fifth year of law school that she realised she truly wanted a career as a solicitor; and classics and law tie together well: "I'm quite good at reading old documents. If they're getting me to read a 150-year-old conveyancing document, I've got practice at it."

What do you enjoy most about being a lawyer?

 "It varies. A lot of the research stuff is really fun. So much of what I do is social work and making sure people have somewhere to go and be able to access the systems that are there."

And is there anything that made you lean toward your chosen fields?

"I got the job, and the bits I do in my office I really enjoy. There isn't that much focus on what you do as a generalist lawyer."

Sophie does have an interest the law relating to government agencies. She practices ACC law and is developing her practice in family law while working at Zindels. 

Is there anything you wish you learnt in law school that wasn't covered, either in the study or practically?

"Legal aid and a whole lot more of the real parts of it." 

Sophie says that while she was in law school little to no attention was paid to the practice of legal aid. It wasn't until she began working on her professionals that she was exposed to legal aid.

Sophie, like a lot of young lawyers, has the viewpoint that law school is for education and that the job is where you really learn how everything works. "In law school you get the questions, you do the opinions but you don't apply it so much, and you don't do much of courtroom etiquette." 

After finishing your study, did you find the job matched the expectations you had in school?

"It didn't. But I didn't like law school." She laughs and continues, "It is very different to what I was taught. You learn so much more in your first couple of years working than you ever did at university." 

Can you tell me about anyone who inspires you?

"My bosses are great. A lot of the barristers and solicitors in Nelson have also been really good and showing me what they're doing and what can be achieved.

"It's great having such a range of people who are willing to talk to me about what they're doing and are demonstrating different ways that you can be a lawyer."

Are there any issues currently facing young lawyers and/or the legal system as a whole that you'd like to highlight?

Sophie also works in legal aid and highlights important, and problematic issues currently facing the legal aid sector that is rarely discussed. She says of the training, "With legal aid, you've got a year supervised, and for civil and family law you have 18 months supervised which means once legal aid has approved you practicing, you need to have someone sign off your invoices, you need to have appropriate supervision and you need to have someone who has done that sort of law enough to sign it all off." 

She continues,  "Before they've approved you, even if you are a lawyer, you can only claim as a law clerk and so that means you can't take legal instructions and get legal aid money for it, and you can't appear in court and get money for it."

Sophie points out that legal aid cases can be paid around half as much as some of the larger firms on private cases. She says that this can make it hard for a firm to make money off legal aid work alone, yet the work is just as important as private cases. 

The release of the 2016 Budget shows that $76 million extra has been allocated by the Government for legal aid. It will be injected into the sector over the next four years, with $20 million in 2015/16 to enhance access to legal aid and community law centres. Though, it might take more than just a financial band-aid to fix the issues within the legal aid system on a long term basis, education and red-tape-madness seem to be just as big a problem in this sector.

Moving on to a lighter note, what are your favourite ways to disengage from the job?

Sophie enjoys drawing and reading fiction books as a way to disengage from the job and enjoys listening to musicals and she is currently listening to the musical Hamilton at the moment as a way to decompress.

Angharad is a Wellington journalist.

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