New Zealand Law Society - Going digital for admission to the profession

Going digital for admission to the profession

In mid-October the Auckland High Court started doing admissions to the profession using digital technology. Three newly admitted lawyers who experienced virtual admission tell us what it was like.

As with so many events this year admission ceremonies in Auckland have gone virtual. In mid-October Auckland High Court started doing admissions using digital technology. Keen to ensure some certainty for those wanting to enter the legal profession this paved the way for them to do so in a manner in keeping with the requirements of Alert Levels 3 and 4.

Three lawyers who went through the experience of virtual admission tell us what it was like.

Rebecca Ong

I never imagined that I would be admitted as a barrister and solicitor from my room, sitting in front of my laptop, with my cat curiously sitting on my desk next to me watching. It is a shame that we never got to experience this once in a lifetime opportunity of being admitted in a courtroom, wearing the traditional legal attire and being sworn into the profession in front of a judge, but if this pandemic has taught me anything, it is to learn to adapt and to count my blessings.

I am so grateful that the High Court made it possible for us to be admitted during this difficult time. With the admission ceremony done remotely, my family, relatives and friends from all over the world – Malaysia, Singapore, and the US could tune in and watch the admission live.

Due to the pandemic and travel restrictions, my family had missed my graduation, so it meant a lot having them be a small part of my admission ceremony. I believe it meant a lot to my family too.

During the whole 20 minutes of the admission ceremony, my family group chat was blowing up with excited messages of congratulations, messages about not being able to find me on the screen, screenshots of when they do find me on the screen, so it really did feel like I had my family with me during this special occasion.

Despite not having a physical ceremony, the remote admission was still nothing short of magical. It is still a day I will look back on and remember and a day my family could excitedly say they were a part of.

Shona Squires

It was an honour and a privilege to be admitted to the Bar in a unique private ceremony, in the Dunedin High Court on 23 September 2021.

With my initial 24 August admission plans thwarted by lockdown, and my new business cards collecting dust in my desk drawer, I waited patiently for news from the Otago branch of the Law Society about an alternative future arrangement. However, my primary concern at the time was how long Aucklanders would be locked down, and unable to travel to the South Island. My Auckland-based moving counsel, Phillipa Muir, and Justice Toogood, were to be guests of honour at my admission.

Shona Squires on the screen in Dunedin, Phillipa Muir and Justice Toogood in Auckland.

It was important to me that Ms Muir acted as my moving counsel. After working as her PA at Simpson Grierson for eight years in the 1990s, and remaining close since that time, Ms Muir has been an enormous source of inspiration to me, both personally and professionally. In addition, as a surprise, my friend Justice Toogood had arranged to preside over my admission which was a significant honour. Although I was advised that there was a possibility of an alternative admission date once the South Island was at Level 2, Plan B held less appeal if Ms Muir and Justice Toogood could not attend.

Thankfully, Justice Toogood formulated an attractive Plan B that enabled my admission to go ahead with them both “present”. With Justice Toogood presiding at the Auckland High Court and Ms Muir moving my admission, via the High Court AVL system, my private admission ceremony took place in the Dunedin High Court on 23 September. I was fortunate to be able to have 12 people at my ceremony, which included family, friends and my close colleagues from Staley Cardoza Lawyers. It was a moving ceremony, with personal and heartfelt speeches conducted by Justice Toogood, Ms Muir and me. It was certainly a great honour, and the next best thing to having them with me in person!

I am thankful for my unique admission experience, especially in times where my counterparts, particularly those in Auckland, have been far more affected by lockdown restrictions. I am grateful for the excellent organisation skills and efficiency of the High Court staff, in both Auckland and Dunedin, who helped Justice Toogood co-ordinate my admission ceremony at short notice.

Christiner Chan

My name is Christiner Chan, and I was admitted virtually through Virtual Meeting Room (VMR) on 22 October 2021 due to the Covid-19 Alert Level 3 restrictions. It was a bittersweet experience to say the least.

A month before the ceremony, I had submitted all the required applications to file for my admission. We were at Covid-19 Alert Level 3 facing all kinds of lockdown challenges, causing delays in the Character Certificate being issued and the deadline to file for admission being extended. Nevertheless, thanks to the coordination between the Law Society (Auckland Branch) and Auckland High Court, I was able to file my application for admission. With Covid-19 still lurking about, there was still uncertainty of how and when the admission would happen. I was notified by the High Court two days prior to the ceremony that it would be done on VMR.

On the day of the admission ceremony, I was scheduled for the 2pm virtual admission session. When I logged into the VMR, it felt so surreal. Not long into the ceremony, my name was called, and I had said “I do”. Throughout the ceremony, we had some technical issues. Some moving counsels were cut off halfway through their sentences, some struggled with being heard at all, some moving counsel could not show up for whatever reasons and the candidate had to be allocated another time slot to try again. The ceremony lasted less than 20 minutes. Towards the end, Hon Justice Gault gave a short speech. Briefly, he congratulated us for our hard work, reminded us of our professional obligations to the Court and our clients, and cautioned us to not let our profession consume us.

The ceremony itself was nothing short of a blessing in disguise. It was bitter because it was not an in-person ceremony at the Auckland High Court. It was sweet because the admission was made possible due to the tireless effort and willingness of staff at the Law Society (Auckland Branch), the Auckland High Court and Academic Dress hire. The sweetest part of it all was, my family and friends in Aotearoa and overseas were able to witness this special occasion from the comfort of their homes.

After the virtual admission, me and my partner drove to the Auckland High Court for an obligatory photo in front of one of the pointed wooden arch doors outlined by the ivory-coloured stone archway.

Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who have made this virtual ceremony possible, and to my moving Counsel, Stella Chan, who has been very supportive on my journey into the legal profession since my ultimate year of law school.

Congratulations to my fellow enrolled barristers and solicitors!

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