New Zealand Law Society - Mountain runner’s acting bent gave way to law

Mountain runner’s acting bent gave way to law

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Trail-running theologian’s daughter Claire Brighton never wanted to be a lawyer and was “pretty determined” not to be one – she wanted to be an actress.

She is still recognised by people who saw her in a variety of interesting roles.

“I was an extra in a New Zealand film made in Lyttelton called The Holy Roller. I’ve never seen the finished film so I must see if I can get it.”

Claire Elise (Claire) Brighton
Entry to law
Graduated BA/LLB (Hons) from Canterbury University in 2011 and LLM from Cambridge in 2015. Admitted in 2013.
Senior solicitor at Wilson Harle, Auckland.
Speciality area
General commercial litigation.
Claire Brighton
Claire Brighton

The Holy Roller is about a struggling preacher who is tricked into starting a church in a nightclub by its unscrupulous owner. Things go from bad to worse when an underworld boss sends his hitman to clean-up the situation.

“I mainly did a lot of screen-testing medical simulation for the training of medical students. I played the young female. Unwanted pregnancy, STD tests, depression, pre-natal. Very female issues. I loved it.

“I am lucky enough to have a huge student loan. So the fees paid for my coffee and contributed to the rent at university.

“But it comes back to bite. I continue to meet people who say ‘You’re the girl with chlamydia’.

“I also did an ad for a training programme for Glassons - a generic sales programme. I run into people who saw me in that.”

Getting hooked on law  

“I was fascinated by acting and had rejected the traditional professional lifestyles. I didn’t want to be a lawyer, doctor or accountant. I wasn’t going to university.”

It was only when she had to work after leaving high school to raise money to pay her way to Camp America that it hit home that she had to get some sort of skilled work.

“I enrolled in a BA at Canterbury University. I was attracted to international political relations. Then a friend recommended a second year law paper that looked interesting, but had to do first year law to do it so I did. I got hooked.”

Her choice paid off and she won the Canterbury University law prize in 2011, and the Sir Emlyn Wade Prize from Cambridge University in 2015.

Before joining Wilson Harle in 2016 – where she has recently been promoted to senior solicitor – Claire worked in the public law team at Crown Law and was a judge’s clerk to Justices Andrew Tipping and Susan Glazebrook at the Supreme Court.

She also worked for six months at the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands on what was known as the Kenya case – determining if there was no case to answer in the wake of the controversial 2008 Kenya elections – an evidentiary assessment as to whether the case against various politicians and business cronies could be thrown out.

‘In the UK I studied for my masters with a special interest in international law – international environmental and criminal law. I did my thesis on concepts of sustainable development and how it is influenced by interested parties. Everyone talks about sustainable development but nobody really knows what it means.

“I find the relationship between environmental protection and development from a social nation state perspective to be quite interesting because they are arguably in conflict with each other.”

Black sheep of the family

A single woman, a churchgoer and a member of the Law Society Auckland Branch Young Lawyers committee, Claire describes herself as the black sheep of the family. “There are no other lawyers. My father, Les Brighton, is a theological writer, mum is a teacher, my elder brother is a poet and my younger brother an artist.

“Dad is currently writing a book about the Epistle to the Romans. He was editor and a writer for Affirm magazine in Christchurch. He was also director of marketing for Canterbury University’s international department.

“My happy place is trail running – it’s strenuous. I did a marathon in 2012 but once you start running mountains the distance doesn’t matter. In April a group of us ran up and down Mts Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe and Tongariro in 15 hours.

“I like tramping and am looking at taking up rock climbing.

“Italy is one of my favourite places to visit. I love the food and the people are amazing. One of my best holidays was in my last break before I went into exams in the UK. I took a week off and went to the Dolomites.

“It was a running trip, I pack a bag and head off into the mountains. A lot of running is solo because it is more difficult to find people who run around mountains for five hours. For me it is more akin to meditation, it helps to clear the head, helps thinking things through and is relaxing.

“In New Zealand we are lucky to get the use of my uncle’s bach in Hanmer Springs, while he and his wife are in California where she works on genetic engineering of seeds.

“I read when we have a weekend away and I’m a Jane Austen fan. I have read all hers in a flurry and am reading Middlemarch now. My dad recommended a book and I resisted for a year before giving up. I’ve just finished reading War and Peace.

“I lack the talent to be musical but enjoy listening to others. I like singer-songwriter stuff and have a wonderful album just out by Solange Knowles, Beyonce’s sister. And I’m going to see Yusuf/ Cat Stevens in November.

“I don’t watch much television. My flatmate won’t watch lawyer programmes with me anymore because I sit there protesting. I followed Suits for a while … but they never do any law work, all they do is blackmail each other.

“There’s a series on Netflix called Chef’s Table where they follow a chef somewhere round the world. There is a fascinating episode about Jeong Kwan, a Bhuddist nun at Baekyangsa Temple in South Korea, who cooks temple food for the monks. She creates the most incredible food. It is an incredible view of her life and how it influences the food she makes.

“I don’t have a car, I have a little moped scooter - a retro brown walnut coloured 50cc Vmoto, which is a less cool version of a Vespa. I don’t think I can survive without it. It goes past everyone in all weather.

“Jane Austen would be an incredibly charming and cutting dinner guest, which would be excellent, along with Martin Luther King Jr, and Edmund Hillary – I would love to have a conversation with him.

“We would have Italian food, which is sufficiently homely and gets people talking – along with my favourite chianti.

“I have never done any diving. I’m terrible at science and hate maths but love living things and the places you would go to and explore – so if I wasn’t a lawyer I might be a marine biologist.

“Where would I want to be in ten years? I’m not sure and wouldn’t want to commit. I hope I would be a strong litigator.”

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