New Zealand Law Society - NEW IN THE LAW: Shaanah Valdez, Solicitor, Mortlock McCormack Law, Christchurch

NEW IN THE LAW: Shaanah Valdez, Solicitor, Mortlock McCormack Law, Christchurch

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Shaanah Valdez
Shaanah Valdez

Shaanah Valdez was admitted in March 2014 and works at Christchurch law firm Mortlock McCormack Law. Born in Kaitaia, she spent her early childhood living in Carterton before her family moved to Christchurch when she was 8 years old.

Tell me a bit about yourself

"My parents were both born in New Zealand and I have two younger brothers.  Dad's ancestors were Jewish Germans on one side and English on the other, and Mum's family were English and Scottish." 

Both of her parents work in the medical professions with Shaanah's mother working as a registered nurse and her father as a mental health support worker. Her parents had strong morals that they passed on to Shaanah and her siblings. 

"I was educated in the state school system. My family didn't have a lot, but we got a good education and values were important. The people around us consistently conveyed the message that there was nothing beyond your reach if you were willing to work for it."  

When did you realise that you wanted to be a lawyer?

"By the time I was about 12, I knew I was interested in becoming a lawyer, but it became clearer after a few years in the workforce." 

"I used to work in customer services and administrative roles in the trustee industry and I started to realise that I wanted the knowledge and skills to be able to personally help clients with legal issues."

What do you enjoy most about being a lawyer?

"It's stimulating work – you get to solve some interesting problems. And the biggest reward for me is being able to assist people who find themselves in what are sometimes pretty difficult circumstances."

Is there anything you wish you learnt in law school that wasn't covered, either in the study of or practically?

"Not really. I think between law school and profs they set you up pretty well to make a start."  She continues, "But I quickly came to realise just how much can only be learnt through experience, and it's amazing how quickly your experience and confidence grow once you're out there."

After finishing your studies, did you find the job matched the expectations you had in school? 

"Yes. I expected to work hard and that there would be a lot to learn, and that's pretty much what happened." 

She continues discussing the job climate for graduates finding work saying, "The job market was pretty competitive, but I was lucky enough to get a good conveyancing role that gave me lots of experience. And I love my current job – I get a good variety of work, lots of client interaction and a good degree of autonomy."

Can you tell me about anyone who inspires you?

Like a lot of young solicitors, Shaanah credits her colleagues with a lot of her inspiration and valuable support. 

"The barristers and other mentors I work with. They're incredibly knowledgeable, which I really admire. But they also have a certain clarity of perspective, and they always find time to be available and genuinely interested, both for their clients and for me." 

The practical learning curve that graduates go through once they have been through the competitive, and often stressful process of the job application, and ultimately gaining employment can be daunting. The stress can be eased with the help of colleagues and support networks in the early years of practice.

Attrition rates of graduates can be unpredictable during these first few years as well. Young lawyers are figuring out their process and whether they want to continue down this career path and support networks are valuable assets.

Are there any issues currently facing young lawyers and/or the legal system as a whole that you'd like to highlight?

"I think it's a struggle for a lot of young lawyers to get enough balance between work and other areas of their lives. A lot of them are under some serious pressure so far as workloads and billing are concerned. I'm grateful to be working for a firm which places such a high value on maintaining that balance."

What are your favourite books/musicians/movies?

"I really enjoyed the films The Kite Runner, The Constant Gardener and an Argentinian film called The Secret in Their Eyes."

Some of her favourite band include One Republic, The Script, with a few favourite Latin American artists.

Any hobbies in your down time and what do you like doing to decompress after work?

As with a lot of lawyers, stress is a part of the job. Shaanah enjoys practising yoga and gardening, cooking, socialising, and horseback riding with her 7-year-old daughter.

Angharad is a Wellington journalist.

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