What's it like being admitted to both the High Court of New Zealand and the Supreme Court of Queensland? Channy Mao has just joined Wellington law firm Mahony Burrowes Horner as a Senior Solicitor after being admitted in both jurisdictions within the last three years.
Born and raised in Wellington, Channy studied law at the University of Waikato, graduating in 2011. Wanting to work in Brisbane, Australia, she worked at a private law firm there before she was admitted as a solicitor in Queensland and as a barrister and solicitor in New Zealand in 2013, completing her New Zealand profs course from overseas.
"There is never a dull moment..."
After sorting her admission to practise in New Zealand, Channy applied for an in-house lawyer position at Hospitality New Zealand and was accepted. She moved back to Wellington in 2013.
"After a few years of doing a mix of public law and litigation, I moved onto as a sole legal advisor in the private sector specialising in employment, leasing and liquor", she says.
With her move to Mahony Burrowes Horner she has begun work in commercial law and specialising in insurance and finance “…so there has been a lot of diversity in both the legal work and work environments since I began practising.”
When did you decide to become a lawyer?
Channy explains that she always did well in written subjects at high school. She participated in debating and enjoyed critical thinking and problem solving so much she continued throughout her tertiary education: “…I imagined that a lawyer would heavily rely on those skills, as well as being a vehicle for change, which also played a part in deciding to become a lawyer.”
After finishing your studies, did you find the job matched the expectations you had in law school?
"For the most part, I thought it would be challenging, mentally stimulating and hard work, which it still is."
Explaining that she was driven and thought finishing top of her class would open doors to a good job she continues, “Some places value that, however, I found that it wasn't possible to do my job well without being personable and possessing a good set of ‘soft skills'. After all, the practice of law is a business."
What do you enjoy most about working at MBH?
“The commercial law focus is broad in that it covers all aspects of having a business, so there is never a dull moment.”
Explaining the pros of working in a smaller firm Channy says, “The smaller size means we are close knit. The fact that both partners have an extensive legal background means they are very good mentors and are quite aware of what makes a good firm from an operational perspective.”
The firm also has an office dog, Graham.
The addition of Graham helps support the culture of the firm and the people. "You can't go wrong when you have great work, culture and people," Channy says.
You have been admitted to both the Supreme Court of Queensland and the New Zealand High Court. Can you provide some insight into how admission works in both countries?
Offered the opportunity to gain admission to the Supreme Court of Queensland while working in Brisbane she says, “…it was quite easy to do, and was something I would have needed to have done if I wanted to practise in Queensland.”
Under the Trans-Tasman Mutual Recognition Act, Kiwi lawyers are allowed to practise in Australia as if they were in New Zealand, and vice versa, so long as the lawyer is admitted in both countries.
“I’ve only been admitted in both jurisdictions; as a solicitor in Queensland and solicitor/barrister in New Zealand.”
Even a solicitor with very little to no experience in the others' judicial system can practise in both countries.
Do you have a preference between in-house or commercial litigation?
"I personally prefer the many technicalities and complexities of commercial law, but there has been proven value having knowledge in the other areas of law I've worked in.
“There are pros and cons of working in each environment and it depends whether you have any specific career goals.”
Is there anything you wish you learnt in law school that wasn't covered during your studies?
“Being resilient, socially aware and having common sense.
"To be fair these are skills you can learn outside of law school, such as through work experience, getting involved in the community, volunteering, sports, travel and so forth.”
Are there any issues currently facing the legal profession that you would like to highlight?
Channy broaches the subject of attrition in firms and not enough women lawyers in senior positions: “Law is a long and expensive degree and the jobs available after university are far and few, not to mention you might not get a taste of being a lawyer until you’ve tried it (when it’s too late to go back).”
"Gender issues like the pay gap and unconscious bias speak for themselves, but really need to be scrutinised because it seems to be a prevalent issue, yet it remains largely unaddressed."
Are there any issues currently facing young lawyers that you would like to highlight?
“Culture seems to be a hot topic. The competition means that some will settle for a job they feel they should take, but don’t necessarily want…
“Managing expectations is another as I think they realise law is not genuinely for them in terms of the type of commitment or pressure involved.
"Therefore it is quite important that you love your job as being a lawyer is not as flash as it sounds; however, it is very rewarding if you are doing it for the right reasons."
Can you tell me about anyone who inspires you?
“Too many to choose from.
"I'm actively involved in the law outside of work through Law Society committees and professional networking groups, which gives me an opportunity to meet some well-accomplished individuals...
"It can be motivating to meet role models with such high levels of integrity and a deep passion for the profession."
What are your favourite books/musicians/movies?
“I do a lot of reading at work but not the leisurely sort.
“I’m pretty open minded with music and movies, but more interested in the latest Ted Talks or podcasts of a similar nature.”
Do you have any ways to disengage from your job to achieve a work/life balance?
Channy explains she enjoys cooking. "Cooking can be quite therapeutic and you need to eat three times a day, so that helps."
She also likes to dabble in a few different areas, "… I try to focus on more creative hobbies to balance out my day job. I'm teaching myself the ukulele, playing the piano, painting and doing life drawing classes."
She quips, “people thought I’d be an artist when I left school, but I wasn’t too fond of the idea of making money only after I died.”