By Angharad O'Flynn
Hong Kong-born Emma Littlewood lived in the autonomous territory until, at the age of seven, her family made the move to New Zealand.
The Littlewood family landed in Auckland where Emma completed her high school education at Epsom Girls’ Grammar School. Ever the adventurer, as part of her arts degree, she participated in two summer school exchanges to Spain and then Brazil.
On these exchanges, one of which was part of the Prime Minister’s Scholarship for Latin America, Emma had the opportunity to study French, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian language papers as well as studying French, Spanish, and Latin American history and culture.
Emma says that during school she didn’t know what she wanted to do.
“I always loved studying English, history and languages but wasn’t sure how those subjects would transfer into a career. I knew I wanted to continue to pursue languages so I enrolled in a BA and decided to enrol in an LLB as a conjoint, without giving much thought to how I would use that degree,” she says.
“However, as I went through law school, I discovered that law might be right for me. This was cemented when, in my fourth year of university, I met Sally Morris, who is the partner at Morris Legal where I now work.
“I started working at Morris Legal part-time at the same time I was studying the equity and family property papers at university. Being able to work in the same area I was studying was an invaluable experience, as I was able to connect what I was learning with legal transactions in real time and see the effect the law had on people’s lives.”
Language learning to connect with other cultures
Emma studied French and Spanish at school and “loved them”.
“The more proficient I became in these languages, the more I realised how important it is to be conversant in different languages if we want to connect with people in a meaningful way. There are so many words and concepts in different languages that do not directly translate. Learning a language is the best way to learn about other people and other cultures,” she says.
“I was lucky to have the opportunity to travel to France while I was at school. This trip inspired me to continue studying languages at university and stay in Auckland for my degree so that I could travel as much as possible while I was studying.
“During the Spanish part of my degree, I was given the opportunity to study Portuguese and then the opportunity to travel to Brazil as part of a group of University of Auckland scholarship winners from a wide range of degrees.
“In Brazil we studied Brazilian art history, with a focus on indigenous Brazilian art and human rights. My language skills were put to good use when I was called on to assist one of my fellow students by translating Portuguese to English for a documentary she made about the human rights violations following the 2016 Olympics in Rio.”
Emma is a published author in the A.U. Law Revue and the STEP Journal on trustee consequences and end of relationship dealings.
She says she is incredibly lucky that her firm is so supportive of her personal professional development and encourages her to write articles for journals.
“I wrote an article on the Trusts Act 2019 for the AULR (co-written with Kat Werry), an article on costs consequences for trustees for the STEP Journal and an article on income inequality caused by relationships for the NZFLJ.
“Morris Legal is a boutique litigation firm specialising in trust, estate and contentious relationship property disputes. New Zealand has somewhere between 300,000 and 400,000 trusts and it never ceases to amaze me how many difficulties arise from the different ways families and couples choose to structure their assets, particularly when family relationships break down due to a relationship separation, death or other dispute.
“I love practising in this area because we have the opportunity to help people at a difficult time in their lives and hopefully make what they are going through easier.
“I feel incredibly lucky to be able to have so much client contact at this stage of my career and to work with a team who are all so committed to achieving the best outcomes for their clients. As well as being able to help people, working on matters involving trusts and corporate structures is intellectually challenging and there is always a new problem to solve.”
She says with family law having an emotional and mental stress, she finds she can deal with work through the people around her.
“I am incredibly lucky to work with a great team, and the environment at work is always supportive and enjoyable.
“Outside of work, catching up with friends, reading and exercising are my favourite ways to unwind. At the moment, I am loving reformer pilates, or going for walks and doing at-home pilates and yoga workouts when we are in a lockdown phase.”