New Zealand Law Society - Mark Henaghan, Otago University Dean of Law

Mark Henaghan, Otago University Dean of Law

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“It all connects up pretty well really,” Otago University Dean of Law Professor Mark Henaghan says when he describes Dunedin’s legal community.

He says being a large university and having by comparison a smaller legal profession provides a “good mix”.

“We bring the profession in to do teaching when it’s necessary and add their practical expertise. I think pretty much all of the profession here are Otago graduates and come along to our public lectures. They judge almost all of our moots and other competitions.

“It’s the extra stuff that really makes a difference, where they [the profession] can add their practical expertise. Academics have their place in terms of teaching based on their research – we can do some really detailed work and I think we put a lot of effort into that as academics – but it is the practical skills where the profession can really add their expertise and insights. That really adds that extra dimension.”

Even if a lawyer doesn’t have their firm sponsoring an event they will still go and do their bit, according to Professor Henaghan.

“They do it because of the university. It’s not a branding exercise for them. It’s an expense in coming down and supporting our students. We never take that for granted and it makes a big difference.”

The students

With 85% of students not originally from Dunedin, almost all will head outside Dunedin to work, but they’re encouraged to stay in the city.

“The majority will largely go north and some will go to Invercargill, but they go all over the country really … We try to encourage them to stay here,” Professor Henaghan says.

He says some firms in Dunedin are creating summer clerkships and that the profession and the university are working on a new programme to ensure that every law student has some practical experience in a law firm.

He says this new programme will be operating “fairly soon”.

“This is so they can spend some hours getting a feel for what it’s like working in a place like Dunedin, where the majority of firms are smaller. That gives them a different experience because many of them have summer clerkships in the big firms.

“I think for law students, sometimes the only perspective they get on life is in the large firms. Because the large firms have the ability to advertise widely, and they think this is life, but you do need students to work in all the provinces around the country and to look forward to that work. Once they’ve had that experience it gives them a comparison. I think that’s important.”

Town and gown relationship strong

“Physically we're close. We’re five minutes from the courts, the lawyers are just around the corner. I think physical closeness makes a difference because you are bumping into each other and, of course, a lot of the profession are coming in here and doing stuff anyway,” Professor Henaghan says.

He says the Dunedin legal profession is “extremely collegial” but that it is also competitive.

“While they have a job to do and there is an element of competition, they treat each other well.

“I wouldn’t want to say we live in some sort of fantasy world, but it’s a good thing … People pass work to each other and support each other in different ways.”

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