What's your job about?
Duncan Cotterill is a leading law firm with broad expertise and experience and values the importance of working closely with clients and keeping involved in the community. We operate in five distinct markets within Aotearoa, with offices in Auckland, Wellington, Nelson, Christchurch and Queenstown. My responsibilities as a Law Clerk/Graduate Solicitor are both substantive and administrative in nature, primarily involving the provision of research and administrative assistance.
My daily work involves a lot of research-based tasks. This generally involves an in-depth study of a particular area of law or rules that may later contribute to memorandums, opinions, submissions and other advisory documents. I also provide administrative assistance such as handling and filing confidential documents and observing court hearings. My employer also frequently offers professional development opportunities that I attend on a regular basis and is very useful towards my own development in my current role.
I have learnt that the day-to-day functions in legal practice is largely procedural and administrative, and therefore exposes law graduates to a completely new learning experience that is not generally taught in New Zealand law schools. That said, the supervision and support I have received and continue to receive at Duncan Cotterill is outstanding. My colleagues in the Auckland office consistently approach me to ask how I am going and reassure that they are there if I ever need help.
What's your background? Where did you grow up? What’s your Iwi?
I whanau mai au ki Tauranga moana, engari I tipu ake au ki Tamaki Makaurau. Tu karatete ana toku maunga ko Mauao. E rere ana nga wai rerehua ko Tauranga Moana. Utaina toia toku waka tipua ko Mataatua. Tu marohirohi ana toku iwi ko Ngāi Te Rangi. Tihei mauriora. I was born in Tauranga and raised in Auckland. I belong to the Mataatua waka. My iwi is Ngāi Te Rangi, and my hapu are Nga Potiki and Ngāi Tukairangi.
My years in high school were very influential in relation to my current role and personal development. In my final year, I was appointed Head Prefect of my former high school, Kelston Boys High School, amongst a group of great potential leaders. At this stage, I recognised that I had potential to do more than I initially believed. Throughout the year, I focussed on my education whilst aiming to be a strong role model for my younger peers. At the conclusion of my secondary studies, I was awarded the Dux of the school (top academic student) award and achieved NCEA level 3 with excellence. I also received two full scholarships to AUT and University of Auckland, which ultimately prompted my desire to study law.
In my first year of law school, I learnt that I was becoming a father. I was 18 years old at the time. This became a challenging period for me; balancing the inherent demands of law school whilst preparing to care for a baby boy. When my son was born, my remaining years of law school intensified with challenges. An entire day that should be dedicated to study became only a few hours, generally venturing into early hours of the morning. However, this experience allowed me to gain many skills that I can now implement into my current role, such as efficient time management, prioritising duties and working through stress barriers. I also discovered a new purpose in life, and now see my work as an agent for the benefit of my whanau. Upon reflection, based on the outcomes that eventuated from these experiences, I would not change anything for the world.
How did you get to your current job position and for how long have you been doing it already?
In my penultimate year of law school, I applied for and received a summer clerkship opportunity at Duncan Cotterill amongst a talented pool of applicants. After completing my summer clerkship, I was offered a position as a Graduate Solicitor/Law Clerk in Duncan Cotterill’s Graduate Programme. I began working in my current role in March 2021.
Suppose someone wants to do the same job as you do, would that be also possible with a different degree or qualification?
Yes and no. A hard-working attitude, good problem-solving skills, and the ability to work in a team are all that is required. With the help and experience of my team, I learn new skills on the job that assist in my professional development. The only barrier to working in the legal profession is that New Zealand legal practitioners must complete numerous pre-requisites before being legally entitled to practice law, including the successful completion of a law degree (in New Zealand or abroad). Therefore, any degree or qualification unrelated to law will not fulfil that requirement.
What kind of characteristics or other skills one should have when it comes to your job?
First is good problem-solving skills. The natural duty of a legal advisor is to problem solve and reach an outcome that is tailored to your client’s instructions and legally and ethically compliant. Second is having the ability to work with people. Our work is for the benefit of our clients and communities, therefore, being a good communicator and “people person” is a good characteristic to have. Third is being hard-working and organised. Every day I am working on a task that has a deadline, and as such having a strong work ethic and organisation skills helps with meeting those deadlines promptly. These characteristics and skills are fundamental to the role of a lawyer and do not need to be taught in a lecture theatre.
What's the coolest thing about your job?
After years of studying and applying the law to hypothetical legal issues in a classroom, I find it very rewarding to finally have the opportunity to put my legal theory into practice for the benefit of the people and communities of Aotearoa.
What are the limitations of your job?
The view on working with my employer is very flexible. There are voluntary work-from-home opportunities for all staff, reasonable dress-code policies, and options for flexible working hours. There is also a common understanding throughout the firm that things in life happen, and that urgent personal matters (such as picking up children from school or attending a doctor’s appointment) can prevail over work responsibilities – so long as work is still completed within the necessary timeframes. Working on the weekends is also not expected.
The main limitation relating to my current role is that I do not hold a current practicing certificate. Consequently, my responsibilities are not as substantial as my senior colleagues. Upon admission to the bar as a Barrister and Solicitor of the High Court of New Zealand and receiving my practicing certificate, my responsibilities will increase, and I will then be entitled to practice and advise on the law of Aotearoa for the benefit of clients within our communities.
3 pieces of advice for yourself when you were a student...
My first piece of advice to myself as a student would be take as many opportunities as possible to spend time with whanau and friends. Time with loved ones is precious, and that time will only decrease when you begin working. Second, and specific to my current role, I would advise to not specialise too early. In law school, I spent a lot of time trying to determine what area of law I wanted to specialise in. Although it is useful to have an idea, I now hold the view that Graduate Solicitors should take a generalist approach and understand all areas of law in their early years of practice, rather than limit themselves to a specific area of legal practice before their career has started. Third, I would advise to sleep more