“Law is so diverse and so much more applicable than you would think,” says Anna Watson.
“We interact with law in our everyday life,” says the former lawyer, who is now working for Inspiring Stories Trust to run a programme designed to help young New Zealanders become leaders of the future – a programme named Future Leaders.
“Whenever people ask me if I’d still done law, because obviously I’ve taken quite a different path now, my answer is ‘yes’, because the learning at university is amazing, but also the time that you spend in a law firm is pretty essential to being successful later in life.
“When you become the person who would essentially be the client, then you see that law is such an important part of operating a business.
“And it’s also been great in terms of contacts. Bell Gully was my former employer and since I’ve come on board with Inspiring Stories they’ve offered us pro bono advice to help us get up to speed on health and safety legislation.”
Beginning in the law
Ms Watson began her working life as a lawyer.
“I’m from Dunedin originally and went to Otago University,” she says.
“My English teacher had expressed outrage at the fact that I’d decided I was going to go into the Navy. She really wanted me to go to university, so she suggested that I take law just to see how it went.
“From there, I just sort of fell into it I guess, had a really great first year, and really enjoyed all my papers.
“I decided to go through into a second year. Before I knew it I was doing an internship in Bell Gully in my third year. They offered me a job and I went straight into that after university.
“I moved up to Auckland and started in the corporate department working for a partner who was involved in a lot of general corporate work, a bit of electricity and geothermal as well.
“I was there for almost three years and had some awesome opportunities, including going over to London to work for Slaughter and May for six months. Then I came back and had about another eight months in New Zealand, working back at Bell Gully before deciding that it was time to look for something else.
“When I was over in London I got really excited about going into a career that was a little bit more in line with my values.
“I was sitting in an olive grove with my mum in Spain and I was reading this book about how to get out of the corporate world, and I just decided I was going to do something a little bit crazy for a bit to see what would happen.
“When I got back to New Zealand, after a few months of settling back in, I applied for a few jobs and the one that I set my heart on was a job as a hiking guide down in Fiordland, on the Milford and Routeburn tracks.
“That was only a six-month contract, so I saw it as a working holiday. I knew it wasn’t something that I wanted to do for the rest of my life, but I just wanted a bit of a breather and get back into a space where I could think about everything that I’ve learnt in my legal background and everything that I’d worked for up to that point.
“I had a lot of time to think, because I was constantly walking in the mountains, which was great.
Inspired to help young leaders
“When I was hiking I was also blogging for a drink called Chia, which is one of my friend’s health drinks, and I got to interview a person called Guy Ryan who is the CEO of Inspiring Stories.
“He was Young New Zealander of the Year in 2015 and he’s created Inspiring Stories, an organisation which looks to unleash the potential of young New Zealanders, which is a huge, hefty aim. I instantly loved the kaupapa behind it.
“A couple of months later I saw a job come up for programme manager of a programme they were just about to launch called Future Leaders, which goes out into the rural and provincial areas of New Zealand – including quite deprived places like Ōpōtiki, Kawerau, Manawatu and Buller.”
Future Leaders is a year-long programme that sets up a cluster of two to four young people to build their entrepreneurship skills, their leadership skills and takes them through a process where they come up with a project to make a positive difference to some issue that they see as affecting their community.
“They needed a programme manager to run it, so that’s where I came on board and that’s what I do now, which is incredible and challenging and great.
“I started in May, so it’s been four months. Through that time we’ve launched the programme and we’re operating in four main areas which involve seven districts.”
Virtually from the time she took up her new role Ms Watson was using her legal knowledge and skills.
“Almost straight away I was looking at contracts, because we were getting councils on board, and having to draft agreements between Inspiring Stories and participants who are coming on board.
“So even though there was nothing in the job description about law, that was where my legal training kicked in.
“Just the other day one of the people in my team wanted to run a competition, and I said: ‘you’ve actually got to look at the Gambling Act’. So it’s been really interesting to see where my legal background comes into it.
“Then all the creative and communication side of things are really essential as well. I’ve got these 16 participants and I have to constantly get on the phone to them, see how they are going, see if they’re actually enjoying the programme, what they’re getting out of it, how I can help them, where the learning and development gaps lie. And then I’m also developing the curriculum as well.
“I also look at budgets, so basically it’s like running my own business, which is amazing.
“Because we’re quite small, and this is the first time Future Leaders has been run, I’ve so much autonomy and responsibility. It’s pretty empowering for myself and then hopefully for the young people I’m doing it for as well.
“The people that we get into the Future Leaders programme have been identified either by the Mayor or the council or other key community contacts as young people who really want to give back to their community. These are young people aged 18 to 25 who are working either full-time or studying, so this is something they do in their spare time. It’s essentially volunteer work for them, but they really want to make a difference for their community. They identify themselves as leaders and current community and business leaders also see them as having a lot of potential.
“There’s some really exciting people that we work with, and also a huge range of different people as well.
“I’ve got one girl who never finished high school and she came from quite a rough background, but she is so committed to making her community the best place it can be. Against that I’ve got a couple of participants who are studying at Victoria University and they’re super motivated and have awesome connections. They share the same sort of drive but from completely different backgrounds.”
One of the projects on Ms Watson’s radar right now is the Festival for the Future conference that Inspiring Stories is hosting in Auckland from 23 to 25 September.
“It’s a 2½ day conference plus so much more – it is the opportunity to meet Kiwis who are innovating, disrupting and leading the way to New Zealand’s future as a better society. Attendees have the opportunity to hear from incredible speakers, attend workshops to upskill on a personal development level, network with industry leaders and enjoy music performances,” she says.
“I’ve just been talking to quite a few law firms, banking firms and accounting firms about sending a few of their young professionals along as well.
“There’s a whole lot of workshops that we run have a really amazing interactive element to it. It’s things like ‘design thinking’ so if you’ve got a problem, say like a tricky clause in a contract, or if you’re wanting to start up something but you’re not sure what the business is going to be then design thinking is the process that you go through to get to that solution. That’s just one example of what we’ve got,” she says.