Floods, tear gas, and violence.
It wasn’t the average overseas experience for DLA Phillips Fox partner and insurance litigation specialist, Veronica Cress.
Cress has just returned to the firm’s Auckland office following a secondment overseas – an experience she believes has greatly enhanced her capabilities as a litigator as well as her perspective on life itself.
Ticking off life goals isn’t something to procrastinate. So after making partner at DLA Phillips Fox several years ago, Cress took a sabbatical and used it both to travel through Europe and do Muay Thai kickboxing in Phuket, Thailand.
She arrived in Phuket in October 2011, a couple of weeks before the Thailand floods, and lived there for nine months, attending Muay Thai training full time and even fighting at Bangla stadium twice.
Next came a secondment to Sydney to help with some large-scale litigation. But soon, the Bangkok office was asking Cress to go back to Thailand, to assist both Thai and international insurers and reinsurers with insurance litigation arising out of the 2011 floods. “Many of the issues were similar to those that arose in relation to Hurricane Katrina and the Christchurch earthquakes in New Zealand (including, for example, loss aggregation and wide-area damage issues),” says Cress. “ The highlight was doing international reinsurance arbitration work that I hadn’t encountered in New Zealand.”
Cress could speak enough Thai to “get by” and understood Thai customs and social norms before she arrived for the second time, but difficulties remained. “Most of the biggest challenges were language-related issues that arose because the laws of Thailand are, naturally, written in Thai not English, and court proceedings are also conducted in Thai,” she says. “I encountered daily reminders of the imprecision of translation. One example that comes to mind was an official English translation of government regulations for “Cosmetics with Anti-Sunshine Properties”, which was a direct translation of the Thai words for ‘sunscreen’.”
When political unrest erupted in Thailand towards the end of 2013, Cress was there to see it first-hand. “There were violent clashes between anti-government and pro-government protestors on the streets of Bangkok,” she says. “Lives were lost and many people were injured. Protestors attempted to take over government buildings and over 100,000 protestors rallied in the streets making it difficult to move around parts of the city. I was able to avoid the worst trouble areas most of the time but my secretary was caught in tear gas one day on her way home from work.”
Cress nevertheless fervently recommends overseas experience to other New Zealand lawyers. “I had valuable opportunities to meet and collaborate with colleagues from many different DLA Piper offices overseas,” she says. “Like clients, lawyers from different jurisdictions can also have very different ways of engaging, working; and approaching litigation that are shaped in part by where they work.
But the most valuable thing she gained from her experience overseas was a much broader perspective on working and living in New Zealand. “I learned that New Zealand lawyers are as good as the best lawyers anywhere else in the world,” says Cress. “ I also appreciate more than I did before just how lucky we are to be able to both practice
in a country like New Zealand where the law is centralised, reasonably clear and accessible, and live in a country that is clean, safe and relatively free of corruption.”