Because of recent revelations, the New Zealand legal profession is currently focused on harassment and bullying. Stephanie Grieve thinks a main aim for the industry must be change that inspires younger generations to still want to join.
With years of experience – these last few years as a partner at a large national firm – she thinks that partners particularly in bigger firms need to realise that not all young lawyers have the same goals.
Grieve, who recently became a barrister sole, also discusses what she liked about private practice and what advice she wants young lawyers to know.
Please tell us more about your background.
I grew up in Auckland, studied at Otago and started my career as a junior barrister in Wellington. I then worked overseas in legal jobs in Paris, London and Amsterdam before returning first to Dunedin and then to Christchurch.
What made you choose a career in law?
I studied law because I was always better at words than numbers and needed something to bolster my arts degree in French. I enjoyed the law degree, but I wasn’t convinced about practising law until I did my profs and found that I really enjoyed the practical side, especially the advocacy. My father is a lawyer so, looking back, that was probably an influence – although when I was younger I don’t recall ever wanting to be a lawyer.
What did you love the most about your work in private practice? What brought about the decision to practice as a barrister sole?
I really enjoyed my time in private practice and the opportunities this provided in terms of clients, work and the development of younger lawyers in my team. As part of the national insurance team at Duncan Cotterill
, I worked with great people and gained some valuable experience in managing large clients. I had always planned to go to the Independent Bar at some stage and felt that the time was right; I think it offers the challenge and freedom of standing or falling on your own reputation, rather than that of a firm.
What has been your proudest accomplishment to date?
I advised the Redcliffs School Board in its opposition to a proposal by then-Minister of Education Hekia Parata to close the school. Despite strong community opposition, after an initial consultation period on the proposal, an interim decision was made to close the school. During a final consultation period, the board made a further submission which demonstrated, based on expert evidence, that the grounds for closure were unjustified. When we met with the minister in Wellington we expected her final decision to be closure, but the minister reversed the interim decision and opted to investigate an alternative site instead. We had anticipated needing to file judicial review proceedings, so were delighted with the outcome. My children go to Redcliffs School, so it was very personal (and time-consuming, as I had to fit it in around my day job) but immensely rewarding because the right outcome was achieved for the local community, all of whom worked incredibly hard in different ways to help. It also gave me a greater insight into the workings of government and bureaucracy, and I will leave it at that.
What do you love doing outside of work and why?
Mountain biking, running, skiing, yoga, and more recently trying my hand at paddle boarding and surfing, all of which keep me relatively sane.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
You have to back yourself, play your own game and don’t focus on what anyone else is or is not doing.
What is your advice to young lawyers just getting their start in the industry?
Make sure you work in an area you’re interested in, with people you can relate to. It’s easy to get put off law if you’re in the wrong area working with the wrong people!
What do you think is the single biggest issue facing the NZ legal space this year?
Obviously the spotlight is on harassment and bullying following recent events. I think all of us in the profession need to create change to ensure talented young graduates still want to join. There needs to be a culture shift, particularly in bigger firms where many partners assume that all young lawyers aspire to become like them. In reality, I think their expectations are higher, and they want to work somewhere where there is genuine diversity – not just talk of it – and people are respected and supported equally. They also want flexibility and a life outside law. These are all things which must become features of the profession, and it is great to see the positive steps being taken by the Law Society and other organisations to make this happen.
Senior lawyer joins the independent bar
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