Claire Middleton attended Tawa College where, unlike a lot of young lawyers who discovered their love of language and debate through English-based studies, she preferred maths and a variety of other subjects.
“I took a wide range of subjects and didn’t particularly like history or English, like a lot of other young lawyers did.”
After high school, she went on to Otago University, continuing her math studies.
By the end of her studies, Claire came away with both an LLB and a BSc majoring in mathematics.
In May of this year, Claire moved to Whanganui to start work at Wilkinson Smith Lawyers as a criminal lawyer.
When did you realise that you wanted to be a lawyer?
“There was no one moment where I thought ‘this is for me'.”
It was in her second year of law at Otago University that Claire realised she wanted to pursue a career as a lawyer, working in criminal practice.
“I did a Criminal Justice paper and I absolutely loved it. We did practical work – visited a prison, had a ride-along with the police, and shadowed a duty solicitor for a morning. I saw the reality of criminal law which was different from the theory we had learnt.
"I really enjoyed first-year law, and I liked Criminal and Public law.
"I volunteered at the Otago Community Law Centre [for 3 years during her studies] which meant that I got to put into practise what I learned on paper, actually using it to help someone.”
What do you enjoy most so far about being a lawyer?
"I think it's the community. I've got a lot of help from other lawyers; both inside and outside my firm. A lot of them [more experienced lawyers] are quite excited to see the young lawyers come through, and more than willing to offer advice.”
Is there anything you wish you had studied in law school that wasn't covered?
“Law school focused a lot on anomalies in the law whereas, I think, when you get into practice you learn quickly that often there is a simple answer to your question in legislation or case law.”
Claire travelled after her studies as a break before entering the legal profession.
Traveling to India, Nepal, Cambodia and Laos, she says of her experience, “It was quite interesting to see a completely different way of life which developed vastly different values and goals.”
Have you found the job, in general, has matched the expectations you had in law school?
“I didn’t really have any expectations…I don’t have anyone in my family who’s been a lawyer, so I didn’t know what it would be like.
“I love my job. I work with great people. I love working in criminal law.”
How do you find working in a smaller region, like Whanganui?
Claire doesn’t work in a big team at Wilkinson Smith, “We all work well together, and being in a smaller firm means I help on a wide range of matters, rather than being in one specific team.”
“Obviously traffic is great. And the weather too.”
Criminal law can be a stressful area to practise in. What ways do you disengage from a long day at work?
“Everyone says it, but exercise.
“I like to go out for walks and runs. I’ll go out in the bush and leave my phone at home. I think learning to switch off your brain is quite important.”
Do you have any advice for young graduates entering the profession?
“Go for the area you want to practise in.
“In law school, everyone gets caught up in the stress of getting a job and getting the perfect job. If there is an area you like, go for it.”