Christchurch Solicitor Satirayan Ravichandiren is passionate about helping others. He currently works in immigration law for Lane Neave, the firm he first joined as a summer clerk in late 2018, before becoming a Law Clerk in November 2019.
Why did you want to join the legal profession? It’s been quite a journey for me as I didn’t know much about working as a lawyer growing up. I didn’t have anyone in my family working in the law, so I did not know what to expect. I decided to study law at university because my mum suggested it to me (because I wanted to be a political journalist and she thought it would compliment it well). It was actually doing voluntary work at Community Law Canterbury that showed me the difference you can make to people as a lawyer – I saw first-hand how you can really help people in quite difficult circumstances. That was what convinced me to properly pursue a career in law.
How have you found starting work as a lawyer – any surprises? One of the things that has surprised me the most, which is not related to the law at all, is how much you learn and grow up as a person joining the workforce from university. Something else that I did not expect was the weight of responsibility that comes with being a lawyer. Working for clients who depend on you has shown me just how significant being someone’s lawyer is, and the importance of fulfilling your duties and obligations to your clients, especially working in the immigration space. As a migrant myself I can empathise with what our clients are going through and the pressures they are under. Following the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s been particularly hard for so many of our clients with the rules being flipped upside down due to the border closures and subsequent changes in policy. At a time like this, you can really feel the responsibility of properly advising someone in an uncertain time and advocating on their behalf.
When did you come to New Zealand? I came to Christchurch when I was seven years old, moving from Singapore with my dad and sister. My dad had studied and worked as a nurse in New Zealand which brought us over here. It was very different to Singapore. I was used to being in a big city with family everywhere and cold, quiet Christchurch was a shock to the system. I spoke English but it definitely wasn’t Kiwi English! One of my favourite memories of adapting to life here was trying to get down with the slang as a kid. I would spend ages practising to say ‘cool’ and ‘awesome’ when I was at school! This was much to my dad’s displeasure as I really ran away with being a kiwi kid! My relatives in Singapore now refer to me as the white boy of the family!
The law can be seen as a very homogenous profession – what’s your view on increasing diversity? It’s interesting as I think our profession is definitely in a bit of flux. As someone from a non-traditional background for a lawyer I do see that at times there can be a bit of a homogenous world view. I’ve definitely had to learn how to hold myself in a certain way and talk in a certain way to fit in with some circles. It was a bit of a shock how old school the system could be, and how you have to adapt yourself and fall in line to some extent to fit the character required of a “lawyer”.
However, I do see a lot more diversity coming through with the younger generation of lawyers, and that’s going to change the industry for the better I believe. Being admitted was a fascinating experience as you could see the barriers that were in place to once keep the “wrong people” out, such as the cost, time and the type of character references required.
How was your admission, as it was just recently? My Admission Ceremony was on the 10th December 2020 here in Christchurch. It was really good to finally get to that day after having started Profs at the start of lockdown. It was a really special day becoming a lawyer, standing up in court and going through the process with everyone else being admitted. It’s particularly special in Christchurch as everyone who gets admitted gets to say something about their journey to becoming a lawyer. For some of us it might be the only chance we get to speak in court so it’s a special feeling to stand up and speak.
I did a short mihi and thanked the key people in my life – it’s definitely taken a village to get me here! My mum came and some close friends. I was very lucky that my employer (Lane Neave) put on a celebratory breakfast as another colleague was also being admitted that day. We also had our work Christmas function that day so it really felt like a day of celebrations!
You mentioned that you did some volunteering for Community Law at university – how was that experience? I started with Community Law in 2017 - it was my first volunteering role since leaving high school. I started on the Infoline which was a phone number that people would call with their legal questions. Then I was a case worker with the Family Law Clinic which provided free family law advice for people. It involved some really emotional cases and was a really great learning experience. It was awesome working with the family lawyers and observing how they interviewed people in emotional situations, gave really practical advice and then helped clients navigate what’s required. In fact, I still use many of the skills I learnt at the Community Law Centre in my job and volunteering roles now.
What voluntary work are you currently doing? In October 2020 I took on the role of Secretary on the Board of the Christchurch Aunties. It’s a charity that supports organisations that help women and children in abusive houses/situations, for example The Battered Women’s Trust and He Waka Tapu. The organisations, who work directly with the vulnerable women and children to house and support them, come to us with requests for things they are unable to provide, for example furniture for safe houses/new homes, clothing, safety cameras, cell phones etc. We in turn reach out to our wonderful network of “aunties” (over 4,000) with the requests and they will donate the items or money for the items for us to pass on to the organisations. These organisations, who do such important work, are often underfunded and the women and children often have to leave dangerous situations with not much in hand. It’s really cool to be involved in the Christchurch Aunties and be part of helping bridge that gap and help some of the most vulnerable people in our community. As Secretary, I organise the meetings and agendas, take the minutes and make sure we’re doing things by the constitution. It’s an organisation and community that I really love and am very privileged to be a part of.
You’ve done quite a bit of volunteering – what motivates you to give your time?
I love it! I kind of fell into it when I took a semester off from uni to work and travel. I was working full time at a convenience store to save money for traveling and it was pretty bland so I started volunteering at the City Mission and Community Law Centre to fill in time. Then it became a thing in my life. I was thinking a lot at the time about what I wanted to do with my life. I realised what drove me, and what I loved, was using my knowledge and skills to make a difference in others lives. Volunteering taught me that there is a lot that I can do for others, and that it so worthwhile helping others just for the sake of it. Ever since then it has been a huge part of my life.
So, when you’re not working or volunteering do you have time for any hobbies? I am a huge NBA fan (nerd) and have a podcast about the greatest players in the history of the NBA with a fellow basketball nerd! I swear its cooler than it sounds. It started at the end of lockdown as a bit of a passion project – my friend and I both love the NBA and are interested in history so at the time it seemed like a great idea. It’s a good chance to be creative – something I don’t really get to do at work! It’s currently pretty small (we have only released four episodes), but we have recently launched an Instagram page (check out The_Stepback_Pod) and have plans to release an episode per month this year. In addition to that, I play men’s netball competitively, love spending hours in the kitchen cooking and am learning how to speak Tamil (a South Indian language that my family speaks). I also make sure to spend a lot of time with friends and family.