An Auckland native, Jennifer Donnelly is a 2014 graduate of Auckland University with a BA and an LLB in Public Law. After working at BECA as a Business Development Assistant, she is now a solicitor at Simpson Grierson working as part of their Local Government and Environmental team. She is a very honest, bright young lawyer with a passion for her work, but also understands the importance of having fun outside of work.
When did you realise you wanted to be a lawyer? .
Throughout high school Jennifer participated in the model United Nations and debate teams, which she describes as "actually a real hoot". Upon leaving high school for University she initially wanted to be a "world saving diplomat".
"Law emerged as the degree that best encompassed the career-facets I was looking for – it allowed me to keep debating (in a sense), it didn't involve numbers, it included historical/political elements…and I realised that I wanted to experience working as a lawyer."
What do you enjoy most about being a lawyer?
"The people I get to engage with … I have the opportunity to work with a brilliant and diverse range of people, all of whom have something unique to offer."
Practising in the Local Government and Environment team, she enjoys the diversity in her job: "I find work in this area to often be topical and controversial, which makes it so much more engaging."
Is there anything you wish you had learnt in law school that wasn't covered, either in study or practically?
Jennifer, along with other young lawyers, feels that the lack of practical knowledge during education can initially be a small issue when entering the work force. However, she also says, "lots of what we need to learn is probably best learnt in a working environment."
After finishing study, did you find the job matched the expectations you had in school?
"Yes and no." Summer clerking during her last year of study, helped her transition from study to work, "going from studying to working-life is always going to be a huge shift. I worked hard at Uni, but there was always freedom to have some me-time. However, there were always assignment deadlines looming in the background, so I found it difficult to ever fully relax." She continues, "with working-life, you are accountable to someone above yourself, which adds a layer of pressure. But when you're not at work, your time is truly yours to enjoy."
Can you tell me about anyone who inspires you?
As a young lawyer Jennifer draws inspiration and support from like-minded young peers, "these are incredible people – intelligent, empathetic, kind, driven young lawyers who have the best intentions for their careers. When I see these friends putting energy into their work, whilst balancing the ruthless expectations put on them by society (family, social media, themselves) and striving to achieve something bigger than their own success, I am extremely inspired."
Are there any issues currently facing young lawyers and the legal profession that you'd like to highlight?
"I think mental health awareness is going to be a huge issue in the profession going forwards. Despite many efforts made in recent years to highlight mental health initiatives (and I am lucky enough to work for a firm that really stresses the importance of mental health), the foundations of the legal profession as a whole are not necessarily mental-health-friendly."
This is an issue that faces a lot of young lawyers. The term 'burn out' has been cited a few times by younger lawyers and Jennifer, along with others, believes that a lot of law graduates and young professionals find that the high pressure nature of the job can impact their mental well being.
"These are extremely talented and privileged young people who objectively have the world at their feet, and yet too many of them are struggling with mental health issues. The adversarial, competitive, high-pressure nature of this job exacerbates the predisposition that some lawyers have to mental health vulnerabilities and the legal profession risks losing these individuals, as they don't want to continue to put themselves at risk. This is a ubiquitous problem throughout the profession globally, and needs a solution."
What are your favourite books/musicians/movies?
"As far as books and movies go, I'm a fantasy/historical fiction fan. A bit of Tarantino violence also never goes amiss."
Music-wise she says, "I will listen to anything and everything, but I have a reputation amongst my friends as having a fairly embarrassing taste in music." But, at the end of a long day at work, all Jennifer really needs is some UK-based reality TV and her cat Pedro.
Angharad O'Flynn is a Wellington journalist.