Life as a lawyer
Often problems that seem to you purely personal become a major factor in your ability to work effectively. Many lawyers put these difficulties aside as unrelated to their practice, but unless dealt with they may become worse and affect professional performance, sometimes with unpleasant consequences. These problems include your own health, lack of confidence in sometimes difficult court appearances (or other situations) and financial and employment difficulties.
If you are experiencing personal problems, we recommend:
- consulting a partner/director or human resources member in your workplace, if appropriate;
- contacting a personal friend who is a senior lawyer;
- contacting a member of the National Friends Panel; or
- contacting a mentor, independent of the profession, such as a professional counsellor or advisor.
No matter how difficult the issue, seek help and take on board the advice offered. You may feel more comfortable with someone nearer your own age, or someone senior, perhaps otherwise unknown to you. The advice you receive will usually be given willingly. Any consultation will be subject to complete confidentiality (and if you have any doubt, clarify this at the outset).
Financial problems and financial planning
Money worries (real or imagined) can have a great impact on professional as well as personal relationships and judgements. A prudent lawyer will ensure that his or her finances are well organised so as to never be tempted to act illegally or unethically because of financial pressure. Relationships with bankers and creditors should therefore be conducted on a sound footing at all times. Speculative ventures by lawyers should be entered into only with care after independent advice. Joint undertakings with clients are subject to the strict rules of the Conduct and Client Care Rules.
Few law firms have superannuation schemes or provide for health insurance. It is therefore necessary for most practising lawyers to make arrangements for disability and retirement. Neither fellow partners nor employers can be expected to carry an ill staff member or partner for long.
You should arrange for suitable insurance to cover you in the event of untimely illness or death. There are various types of insurance cover against illness or injury of both a temporary or permanent nature – such as income protection insurance. Although ACC will cover some types of injury, many other illnesses, such as cancer and multiple sclerosis, are not covered. Income protection insurance premiums are generally lower if you take up cover before you turn 30, so there is a benefit in having a backup plan of this type in place sooner rather than later. This is particularly important for lawyers with young families and those with mortgage commitments, but applies to all.
While you may be just out of law school it is surprising how quickly the years go by. A superannuation scheme started early will be easier to maintain than one started late - KiwiSaver is a good option. There are reputable financial advisers and retirement planners in most of the main centres.
Do not be too proud to seek advice on personal, legal or financial matters.
You must take immediate steps if you have any concerns about:
- the possibility of a professional error or omission on your part or that of another lawyer;
- suspicion that the rules of professional and ethical conduct have been broken by you or another lawyer;
- uncertainty about your obligations under the Conduct and Client Care Rules;
- concern that there has been a breakdown in the relationship between you and your client, such as where the client has expressed his/her dissatisfaction with the work you have done (or rather have not done), you are at odds over factual issues in question or the client accuses you of having said or done something which you have not, you are unable to obtain proper instructions; or
- a client instructing you to act in a way which is or may be contrary to the Conduct and Client Care Rules or the law.
If applicable discuss your concerns with a partner in the firm or consult a member of the National Friends Panel. It is important that you act immediately so that your employer's insurers can be notified, if necessary. Problems are further compounded if help is not sought and positive and direct action is not taken. If the problem is one that troubles you because of its potential impact on your relationship with your employer, consultation with a member of the National Friends Panel may assist in the first instance.
You should ensure that such a discussion is protected by complete confidentiality.
The Panel member will probably not be able to act on your behalf but may refer you to someone who can so act in your subsequent dealings with the firm in resolving the problem and/or securing your employment position.
What keeps lawyers awake at night?
A New Zealand Law Society survey in November 2013 asked lawyers the question "As a lawyer, what is your biggest concern (what keeps you awake at night?)".
Broadly categorised, the biggest concerns of the respondents were (in order): workload, making mistakes, Family Court changes, practice management issues, securing enough work, and effectively working with clients.
A representative sample of the comments:
- Getting work done accurately within time constraints. Have I missed something?
- Making mistakes that affect a client's claim.
- Worrying about deadline for court processes and the pressure to get everything done on time.
- Whether to take on staff and expand.
- Juggling client needs with the admin of a small practice.
- I used to worry about winning or losing a case that was about to be heard but now I am too tired and exhausted at the end of a day that I have no trouble falling asleep.
- Current changes to Family Law, reducing ability of parties to access lawyers at an early stage to try and reduce conflict and obtain a workable settlement with a minimum of delay.
- The poor salary for staff solicitors and making ends meet at home, without going backwards!
- Trying to keep up with turn around times because things need to be done faster than they used to be. Email etc means people expect quicker responses.
- Whether my clients feel they are getting value for their money and time spent by me.
- The reliance of others on the cashflow I generate.
- The inevitable complaint because it is so easy to complain without justification.
- Nothing. I sleep like a baby.
New Zealand Law Society Assistance
As well as acting as the regulatory body for New Zealand lawyers, the Law Society represents the legal profession and provides members with a wide range of services aimed at ensuring they have a fulfilling and rewarding life as members of the legal profession.
A number of Law Society services are designed to provide a starting point for resolution of problems and issues which may be impacting on your health and wellbeing.
This is an initiative aimed at providing support and information for lawyers. Resources can be found on the Practising Well section on the Law Society's website and regular information is published in LawTalk magazine. The website brings together information and resources which aim to help with professional and personal support for lawyers. Information on Practising Well covers matters such as addiction, depression, stress and health and wellbeing. The ultimate focus is to help get all New Zealand lawyers "practising well".
Lifeline Aotearoa Counselling
Lifeline Aotearoa (www.lifeline.org.nz) offers 24/7 counselling and support across a broad range of issues. As part of the Practising Well initiative, the New Zealand Law Society and Lifeline Aotearoa have an agreement where members of the Law Society and members' families can have ready access to Lifeline's free telephone services. Face-to-face counselling is also available either in person (in the Auckland area) or via Skype for a special discounted rate.
Business Mentors New Zealand
Business Mentors New Zealand (www.businessmentors.org.nz) is an organisation of experienced, independent mentors who act as a guide and sounding board for small to medium sized businesses (businesses with up to 25 employees) to help them develop their business potential. Business Mentors and the New Zealand Law Society have a relationship through which Business Mentors offers up to two years of business mentoring free of charge after a one-off registration fee of $150 + GST.
National Friends Panel
The Panel is made up of New Zealand lawyers who are willing to be contacted on a confidential basis by fellow lawyers with questions or concerns relating to practice issues.
National Friends Panel members will listen to you on a completely confidential basis. They may be able to be able to draw on their own experience to suggest a way to approach the issues which are troubling you, or they may be able to refer you to someone else. You will definitely have someone who wants to listen and to discuss things.
The Panel members are not there to judge you – and they are not going to provide you with free legal advice: the National Friends Panel is there to provide support to members of the legal profession from other members of the legal profession.
The National Friends Panel is a means of putting lawyers in touch with experienced lawyers on a one-to-one basis.
- A list of all members of the National Friends Panel is maintained on the Law Society's website.
- National Friends Panel contact information is presented as a list, with Panel members shown by Law Society branch and then in alphabetical order. Each entry provides the following details of each panellist:
- Firm or Practice name;
- Location (ie, Law Society branch);
- Areas of practice;
- Practice issues for which the Panel member is able to offer assistance.
Make contact in the way you feel most comfortable.
Groups for new lawyers
The New Zealand Law Society provides assistance and support to groups of new lawyers located in seven Law Society branch areas. Some of these represent new lawyers on the branch Council and ensure their viewpoints are considered. While definitions can vary, a "new" or "young" lawyer is generally someone who has been in legal practice for less than five years, but it can be up to seven years.
A new lawyers' group is an excellent way to meet and network with other people who are new to legal practice. As well as social events, the groups provide opportunities to develop and enhance your legal skills and to explore career and other opportunities open to lawyers.
Auckland Young Lawyers
Auckland Young Lawyers is a section of the Law Society's Auckland branch. It was established in 2010 to promote collegiality and networking as well as providing members with a voice in the Auckland branch Council and wider groups within the Law Society. The group maintains a page on the NZLS website and a Facebook page. The Committee meets regularly. Further information is available from Glenda Macdonald (09) 304 1014, email@example.com.
Canterbury-Westland Junior Practitioners
Canterbury-Westland Junior Practitioners is made up of junior practitioners with seven or less years post-admission experience. The Committee meets monthly and arranges regular social and educational events for junior lawyers. Further information is available from Sandy Hopkin (Secretary) 03 367 2813. firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hamilton Young Lawyers Group
Hamilton Young Lawyers Group is a section of the Waikato Bay of Plenty branch of the Law Society and is for young lawyers who have been practising for less than five years. The Facebook page is at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/2156892450992472/
You can also contact Helen Radinovich on 07 838 6038/ email@example.com
Nelson New and Young Lawyers' Group
Otago New Practitioners' Group
Otago New Practitioners' Group meets regularly and has a programme of social and educational events. Further information is available from Rebecca Barton (03) 471 5428, firstname.lastname@example.org
Southland Young Practitioners
Southland Young Practitioners organises functions and activities for new lawyers in the Southland branch area. Perhaps put my contact details – Natalie McRae 03 211 1370 and email@example.com as well as the Vice President Tim Marshall 03 211 1370 and firstname.lastname@example.org
Wellington Young Lawyers Committee
Wellington Young Lawyers Committee is a committee of the Law Society's Wellington branch. Its objectives are to promote socialising and networking among young lawyers (someone admitted to the bar in the last 5 years) and to make sure the voices of young lawyers are heard. The group maintains a website and also produces a quarterly magazine, ylc Advocate. Further information is available from email@example.com.
Other lawyer groups
Like any profession, lawyers welcome the opportunity to share knowledge and experiences with others engaged in similar work:
|Aotearoa New Zealand Human Rights Lawyers Association||www.hrla.org.nz|
|Arbitrators' and Mediators' Institute of New Zealand (AMINZ)||www.aminz.org.nz|
|Auckland Women Lawyers' Association||www.awla.org.nz|
|Australian and New Zealand Association of Psychiatry, Psychology and the Law||www.anzappl.org|
|Australian and New Zealand Law and History Society||www.waikato.ac.nz/law/anzlhs|
|Australian and New Zealand Sports Law Association||www.anzsla.com.au|
|Aviation Law Association of Australia and New Zealand Ltd||www.alaanz.org|
|Canterbury Women's Legal Association Inc||www.cwla.org.nz|
|Collaborative Law Assocation of New Zealand Inc||www.collaborativelaw.org.nz|
|Criminal Bar Association of New Zealand||www.criminalbar.org.nz|
|Energy Law Association Inc||www.energylaw.org.nz|
|Law for Change||www.lawforchange.co.nz|
|LEANZ (law and economics)||www.leanz.org.nz|
|Legal Research Foundation||www.legalresearch.org.nz|
|Maritime Law Association of Australia and New Zealand||www.mlaanz.org|
|New Zealand Association for Comparative Law||www.victoria.ac.nz|
|New Zealand Bar Association||www.nzbar.org.nz|
|New Zealand Institute of Legal Executives||www.nzile.org.nz|
|New Zealand Institute of Patent Attorneys||www.nzipa.org.nz|
|New Zealand Insurance Law Association Inc||www.nzila.org|
|New Zealand Law Librarians' Association||www.nzlla.org.nz|
|New Zealand Society of Construction Law Inc||www.constructionlaw.org.nz|
|Otago Women Lawyers' Society||www.owls.org.nz|
|Resource Management Law Association of New Zealand Inc||www.rmla.org.nz|
|Te Hunga Roia Maori o Aotearoa||www.maorilawsociety.co.nz|
|Wellington Women Lawyers Association||www.wwla.org.nz|
Last updated on the 1st December 2018