Name: Augustine Choi
Job title: Employed barrister
Employer, city/country: Hon Robert Fisher QC, Bankside Chambers, Auckland
Length of time in current role: Five years (including two years as a law clerk)
Where and when you studied law: The University of Auckland (2008–2013)
Describe a typical day in your job
I work with several barristers at Bankside who specialise in different areas of litigation. Depending on the file and the instructing barrister a typical day would be filled with meeting the barristers and drafting submissions, pleadings, evidence, research memos and opinions. A large part of my work is in relationship property, trusts and estates but all sorts of general civil litigation comes through the door.
For me most days start with a walk to work with a podcast or some music. Our office takes a coffee break every morning which also helps get things going. A good day usually starts at 8:30am and ends by 6pm but there is a lot of — flexibility, shall we say — in that, which I think is par for most legal roles.
How did you get into this job?
I worked at a farmers’ market for a few years while studying. A customer there who was working at Bankside recognised me, knew I was at law school, and liked the idea I was doing a “real job”. I was asked to do a few hours of research, and that work grew to be my job for the last five years. Not typical I admit.
Are there any particular study subjects or working experience you would recommend to prepare for a similar role to yours?
I don’t think people have to worry too much about their subjects at university. You get to do a lot of learning on the job. Early tasks like research memos allow you to become an expert in an area even when you are quite junior. I think one of the best things before starting work in litigation is to grasp the basics like what is privilege, how do I research, what is a company … All of this makes the early tasks in your job easier and builds your confidence and the confidence of those supervising you.
What are the highlights of the job?
The occasional appearances in court, the views of the harbour, and the relaxed atmosphere in the office. Fortunately, I have a lot of flexibility in how and when I work — the focus is on doing the work right and on time, rather than on being at a desk from 8:30 to 5.
What are the challenges of the job?
I think a constant challenge is getting the client to see things your way. A lot of the clients I work for are individuals who have been involuntarily thrust into litigation and do not understand the law, the process, the risks (and the costs). Yet they have to understand enough to make decisions and to give instructions. Often I find this is resolved by being careful in the language I use and persisting in pushing across concepts.
What kind of personal qualities are suited to this job?
You have to be able to work hard. There is often no one to whom to delegate even administrative tasks. But because you can only work so much, I think you also need to be a good people person. An important part of the job is managing the expectations of and getting along with your clients and those you work with. And be observant.
What one thing do you wish someone had told you at law school?
Choose classes for lecturers rather than subject or timing. You can’t always prioritise in this way but I wish someone told me this back in the day when I was still targeting the three-day week. A good lecturer will make anything interesting but the reverse doesn’t quite work.
Any advice for students wanting to get into a similar role?
Opportunities at barristers’ chambers are usually not as well advertised as those at firms (if at all). Many barristers can’t spare the time to organise an ad or to sift through dozens of similar CVs and covering letters. You should be proactive, cast the net wide and hopefully snare a needy employer at the right time. Call in to see PAs and chambers’ managers. Be prepared to do some fixed term part-time work (even if it is for free) to build their confidence in (and reliance on) you.