New Zealand Law Society - Cassandra Kenworthy – forging a path as a junior barrister

Cassandra Kenworthy – forging a path as a junior barrister

Cassandra Kenworthy – forging a path as a junior barrister

How did you get into the law?

I had been studying Science at the University of Otago and realised I wouldn’t really be able to do science the way I wanted to. As an interest paper while I was finishing off my minor in microbiology I took the first year legal systems paper. I was hooked, applied to get into 2nd year and ended up doing the whole degree down there.  

I kept up an interest in science, focussing on health law – I did my dissertation on a new type of IVF and considering if it was legal in New Zealand. I did a summer internship through the Government Legal Network. I was actually part of the first cohort to do the GLN internship. Through that I was placed with the Health and Disability Commissioner and my initial contract got extended.

After a few months there I got an email from my law lecturer who knew a barrister who was looking for a junior and would I want the job. I took it and went into litigation. That move wasn’t really part of a particular plan, I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. It was one of those opportunities that rarely come up so saying yes wasn’t too hard. 

Forging a path as a junior barrister

I worked as an employed junior barrister for about five years before striking out on my own. I practise across a broad range of areas. Most of the time I’m supporting senior lawyers who don’t have juniors. This means I get to experience a huge range of legal areas and work with different people. I often end up working on some really interesting cases.

I enjoy joining teams that I don’t normally work with and seeing different perspectives of the law and different ways of working. I also find the Wellington community of lawyers to be very collegial.

Joining the bar so early in my career was unusual. It’s usually a pathway that’s traditionally taken by senior lawyers, and often partners when they are ready to leave the big firms. I want what I have done to be seen as a genuine pathway and to encourage more people to consider entering the bar at a much earlier stage.

I know that not a lot of people coming out of university realise there is this option. And it can be a closed shop unfortunately. Barristers trust people for recommendations so will recruit based on word of mouth rather than having the time and resources to go through a wider recruitment process. I think we miss out on some great talent when we don’t recruit more broadly.

Things are changing though. When I started as a junior barrister there were five of us in Wellington. At a recent meet up there were 14 of us.

Challenges about being a junior barrister

Going out on my own has presented more challenges. As a barrister, I rely on my own name and reputation to bring in work. Before I went out on my own I spent a lot of time building up networks around Wellington. I was also lucky to have the unwavering support of my chambers' Barristers.

It can be hard balancing workloads. It can be difficult to predict when a case will become more intense. But on the flip side I like having control over my own work. I’m able to target the specific areas that I’m interested in as well as particular people that I want to work with. That’s a great privilege.

As I mentioned, joining the bar can be challenging for recent graduates who don’t have the financial security that more experienced people do. There are some initiatives that are getting underway in this space to try to address that, for example this year we are running our first internship for a Māori or Pasifika student in our chambers.

I’ve seen how hard it can be - Dad is a truck driver and Mum was a stay at home Mum for the majority of the time I lived in Christchurch, so I didn’t have a background in the law. I didn’t have the family and business connections, which I have noticed can be an advantage. But there are ways you can network. For example, I’m part of a group of barristers who meet regularly for lunch and we often have law students and junior lawyers joining us. I always suggest to junior lawyers that if you want to get involved in litigation and are in a law firm, to ask to come along with more senior practitioners when a case is being briefed out to see how it works.

I think there is an onus on more experienced practitioners to support the next generation of barristers too, especially when it comes to providing “on your feet” opportunities to practice advocacy.


What to consider if you’re thinking about joining the bar

I am optimistic that there is more work for junior barristers than the number of people we currently have in Wellington so there are opportunities. If you are serious then start building your networks. Get to know some of the barristers around town and take opportunities to demonstrate your skills, experience and passion for the law. Some of my most helpful contacts I met as opposing counsel, so you never know where your next brief might come from.

When it comes to going out on your own, I’d say go for it, especially when you have built those networks. I’ve never heard of anyone who has regretted making the move. You need to back yourself and don’t be afraid to take risks, but the Bar is an incredibly supportive place to practice and lots of people will help you if they can.

What really helped me was realising the amount of work I needed to generate an income that I could survive on wasn’t as much as I had thought. Also being in Chambers means the overheads are quite low and you have things like admin support. You can also times call on others to help you out at really busy points.

My best tip is to get a good accountant! They’re worth their weight in gold.


We hear you have recently started an Instagram page DogsofLawNZ – tell us about that

This is mainly about me living vicariously through others as I can’t have a dog! The idea came to me from seeing the assistance dogs in the District Courts, such as Louis in Tauranga. There are an increasing number of law firms that are happy to have dogs in the office – I always love visiting those! I also think it’s good to reflect some of the lighter sides of the legal profession.

The page has grown quite fast, although finding the dogs can be challenging at times. So if you have a faithful office friend you would like to be featured please get in touch through Instagram. It’s been a great way to meet new people, although I think some lawyers have thought I’m a bit odd calling them about their dogs!

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