Congratulations on your appointment as an Assistant Professor. Is that something you were hoping to achieve when you studied law?
It wasn’t where I thought my career was heading when I was studying law at Auckland. I imagined myself as a career litigator. So not long after law school I joined Meredith Connell. I had great courtroom opportunities at Meredith Connell, but I was also given large legal research assignments which I got really stuck into. I spent a lot of time delving into books and legal databases, and I was also writing short legal articles in my spare time and tutoring at Auckland, and I realised this was what I enjoyed about the law—and that this was a career in itself. I received helpful advice from Auckland faculty Scott Optican and John Ip, applied to grad schools, and was on a plane to the US a year later.
You’ve held teaching positions at Harvard Law, King’s College London and the University of Auckland. What are some of the main differences between teaching law in NZ and overseas?
What’s surprised me is not the differences but the similarities. I taught criminal law tutorial streams at Auckland and KCL. While the legal sources differed, the substance of the law and teaching methods were largely the same. At HLS I had a few different teaching roles—all with the master’s students—and I was also a student myself, and I felt well-prepared by my NZ education and experience. Now I'm preparing my own torts syllabus and I've found many of the cases are familiar from my prior studies. One of the great strengths of NZ's law schools is that a large proportion of faculty have been educated and/or practised abroad, and their experiences filter back into their teaching at home. This really benefits NZ students who then go and do the same.
The NZLS Auckland Branch Young Lawyer Committee was established in 2010. You were the Vice Chair on the Committee for a while. How long ago were you the Vice Chair and what prompted you to get involved with the Young Lawyers Committee?
I joined the AYL Committee in its second wave of committee members, in 2012/13. I joined hoping to arrange functions that would include junior lawyers working beyond the city centre, especially those in smaller firms or working as in-house counsel who don’t have the readymade clique of cohorts that you get at the big firms. I wanted to foster events where people could show up not knowing anybody and leave with new friends and connections. This was how I tried to approach law school (I didn’t know anybody at law school, or frankly anything about law, when I first started), and I think is valuable in a profession where you’ll run into the same people throughout your career.
What were some of the things you learned from being on the Committee?
What I hope I learned was the right balance between advocating for proposals and compromising on account of others’ views. The Committee was good at sharing responsibility around—each of us took the lead on at least one event throughout the year, and all of us helped out where we could. There were some ideas I felt strongly about, though. One was that when we put on team-based events, such as pub quizzes, the teams should be randomly filled so that no one would have to feel like they were breaking into an established group of friends to join a team. The other was that our end-of-year members’ function should be a casual barbeque, not a formal cocktail function (which was a debate at one meeting). I got my way on that one, probably because I was assigned to organise it, and it was a memorable evening on one Shortland Street rooftop.
If you started a young lawyer committee now what would be your key focus?
My focus would be the same: inclusive social and informative events where someone can be comfortable turning up not knowing anyone. Alongside some memorable social functions, I also personally got a lot out of the lunchtime informational and skills-based seminars we put on. I recall one aimed at first-year lawyers hosted by lawyers who were a few years in, discussing in a frank and honest way the skills and challenges of working in the legal profession. The interpersonal and mental pressures of professional life were obvious then, but are even starker now, and having an organisation where peers can share and relate with one another is, I think, really valuable.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused significant disruption for individuals and educational institutions. What are some of the key impacts in the educational sector?
I only know what I’ve read and observed myself, but the impacts are extremely challenging, especially for international students and those embarking on the law school hiring markets. When campus closures and border closures were announced in the US, international students on short-term visas were given only days to pack up and ship out. The Kiwis, Aussies, and those in the Asia-Pacific region then had to become nocturnal to complete their live online classes. Obviously everyone is now working to design adequate alternatives to in-class teaching. At Allard Law, the current plan for my torts course is to have a rotating one-third of the class in the lecture theatre, with two-thirds participating via livestream, but the plan is fluid and if there’s a COVID flare-up in British Columbia I’ll have to adapt to full online teaching. The one benefit of the pandemic is that flexible working has become normalised, but even that’s a double-edged sword as it can cut down the barrier between work-life and personal-life (that said, as a grad student I rarely knew where that line was).