New Zealand Law Society - Attracted to law from a very young age

Attracted to law from a very young age

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Until recently the Wellington young lawyers leader, Jelena Gligorijevic can’t pinpoint exactly when she began to be interested in the law.

“Since I was very young, even before 10, my conception of the law aligned with how much I liked language and using language in a particular way,” she says.

“I was also drawn to socio-political issues from a very young age.

“I think that stuck with me, even though through High School I was very strong in sciences and maths, and that’s why I ended up enrolling in law.

“I haven’t regretted it at all, and so throughout my law school I enjoyed it and knew that was for me.

“So from a very young age I conceived of the law to be some sort of voice of reason in the tangled world that it sometimes is from a socio-political point of view.

“I thought that [the law] might be a way of at least sorting things out in my mind and then hopefully applying that to iron out some of the creases in society.”

From a very young age, then, Jelena “conceived of the law to have a social purpose, and I wanted to learn how it works and to be a part of it”.

So Jelena enrolled at Canterbury University. At the time, Professor Richard Scragg was Dean of the university’s Law School.

Great influence

“I have only good things to say about him. He was a great influence on me, and the Canterbury Law School was a great influence on me in terms of actually having started learning the law.

“Do I actually like [the law] and is it what I want to do? Canterbury confirmed wholeheartedly that I did. So Law School and other leaders in the faculty, such as Philip Joseph and Ursula Cheer, they were all instrumental in that.”

After graduating with a BA LLB, Jelena joined Russell McVeagh in Wellington.

“I summer clerked here after my third of five years of law school and I decided after my experience here that I wanted to come back after I graduated. Before the end of that summer clerkship, I was still open to applying to be a judge’s clerk or other career paths, but I had such a good experience, genuinely, because I hadn’t expected to, that’s why I decided to come back here.”

Three years later, Jelena has left the firm. 31 August was both her last day at Russell McVeagh and her last day as a practising lawyer – at least in the meantime.


She is leaving New Zealand to study towards an LLM at Cambridge University, where her focus will be on legal issues as they relate to national security.

Jelena has won a Chevening Scholarship, one of 200 people from some 150 countries to gain this honour in 2015. Named after Chevening House, which Britain’s Foreign Secretary has traditionally used, this scholarship aims to develop global leaders.

Following her study, Jelena will probably work for the state either in New Zealand or the United Kingdom. Alternatively, she may join the bar or return to work in a law firm. “These options are all open for me,” she says.

YLC Convenor

For the three years she has been a lawyer, Jelena has been active in the Young Lawyers Committee of the Law Society’s Wellington branch.

For the first two years, she was a committee member, and in 2015, she has served as the YLC Convenor.

“The young lawyer dimension is very important to me – again stemming from this conception of the law having a social function.

“You are always going to have a concern that the young lawyers, the new lawyers entering the profession, have a mentality that they have a particular role to fill.

“They shouldn’t, in my subjective perspective, just treat their job as a machine that will give them income, and that they go to work and are part of a machine themselves.

“There’s always a risk I think in modern times to look at anyone’s job like that. That’s why I took an active role very willingly to try and cultivate a sense of civics, if I can say, amongst young lawyers and for them to get involved in a way that reminds them of what profession they are, that they are the future of the profession, and that they are going to shape how others look at lawyers and how successful the law is as a social function and what it should be doing.

“When I started at Russell McVeagh, I put my hand up to be part of the committee, and in 2013 and 2014 I had various roles and organised events.”

Panel discussions

In each of the three years (including this year) Jelena has organised panel discussions.

The first was on gender equality in the public sector. The second focused on equality apathy (with a perspective on minorities generally and not just gender equality). This year’s event looked at issues in information, power and the rule of law.

“I guess I am really lucky that my colleagues saw value in trusting me to create such events,” Jelena says.

“These have the aim of bring people together – lawyers, people outside the law, young professionals and others – to start thinking about these issues that are important but can easily get swept under the carpet.”

Outside the law, Jelena has always been interested in theatre – especially being on stage, but also directing and creating pieces and she has already joined theatre societies in Cambridge. “That’s a huge interest of mine.”

She also really likes horse riding, and has played a number of sports such as tennis, although does this more for enjoyment than with a competitive driver.

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