Hello, readers. Welcome to the inaugural article in this advice column for law students and graduates. I am pretty damned delighted to be here.

In this series I will respond to reader queries on all kinds of topics related to study, practice, life, careers, self, being a lawyer, being a human, and anything else related to being a law student or graduate (so basically anything). I will also share stories and insights about these same issues, drawn from my own experience and from the many great researchers and writers I devour as a kind of intellectual and professional diet. If you have a question please send it to the email address below, and we will have some fun.

Before launching into answering your questions, I thought it might help to set out who I am and why I do what I do.

I am a former lawyer, now coach and consultant for lawyers, living in Christchurch. Things that bring joy to my life include Mike Schur’s comedy, having comprehensive conversations with people during crossroads in their lives, books where people find their humanity while doing something weird, and my small dachshund, Allie. Things that drain my joy include systemic prejudice, my own mental health issues, and the absence of my hypothetical second dachshund, Beans.

I have been a law student, a summer clerk, a graduate solicitor, a senior solicitor, and a director of my own boutique litigation practice. There was a lot of good stuff in each of those roles, but there was also a lot of pain and confusion and fear. I found as I ascended through each stage that the earlier stage could have been a lot easier if only there was a bit more conversation around certain topics, or a bit more information about options and mindsets and approaches. It would have helped also if the issue of happiness and the day to day experience of one’s life was part of the picture as well (its absence from most conversations about legal careers is, er, concerning to say the least).

I thought I might have been alone in that experience, but in 2016 the venerable Josh Pemberton published a report on the experiences of junior lawyers, and they pretty much mirrored my own. It was not that being a lawyer was challenging and stressful in itself, which it is, but that on top of that was laid a whole bunch of unnecessary stress and pain and difficulty. The latter was borne, partly, of bad information given to law students about what the practice of law was actually like and how individuals might design a career that worked for them. There was also a weird silence about the professional hazard of poor mental health.

I could not have been more excited about this news, you guys. These are problems we can do something about, so that future law students and lawyers have a better time. If I had known more at the start I might have chosen a more authentic and fulfilling path, and there might have been less suffering along the way. If all lawyers did that, the damned world would change.

So, I started a podcast, The New Lawyer, so-named to refer both to the audience and my own optimism for a new conversation about law. This was to be a conversation that examined the flaws in the status quo and how to ameliorate them, but also looked for where lawyers were thriving already. This was to a conversation where people were asked how they brought joy into their careers, and how they managed mistakes and bullying, one that didn’t require people to stay lawyers at any cost, a conversation with jokes and sometimes swear words.

Since then, I have published conversations with law students, lawyers, judges, constitutional officers and all sorts of others about their perspectives on the industry, their own career foibles and what they wish they had known when they started. We have talked openly about our poor mental health, about non-linear careers, about all manner of areas of law and types of practice. And there is still more to go.

At the same time, I became a columnist for the Law Society’s Law Talk, where I shed the yoke of dry, academic, professional writing and told the whole industry they should really take improv if they knew what was good for them.

This column is another part of the conversation, this time directed squarely at law students and new graduates. And now the conversation is a little more back and forth, as I want to do less assuming what you might care about, and more responding to the things you definitely do care about.

I make certain assumptions about you, dear reader. I assume you are hardworking and are doing your best. I assume that you do so much reading of dry academic and judicial writing for your study that you would prefer to avoid anything written in that style in your leisure time. I assume you tend toward perfectionism and all or nothing thinking. I assume you are harder on yourself than is probably justified. I assume you want to earn good money but ideally also do some good in the world. I assume you are a whole human being and resent being addressed as if you are not.

So please, if you have a question or a topic you would like me to address, please let me know. You can keep it anonymous or give a pen name if you prefer, but rest assured that if you are wondering about something, chances are a whole bunch of others are too.

As we say on the pod, without further ado, let’s go!

If you have a question you would like to ask, please email learnlawlife@symphonylaw.co.nz, with your first name (or a pen name) and your age – these details, as well as information provided as part of your query may be published. Submissions will go directly to Katie at Symphony Law, who will review and select queries for future posts. Please keep in mind that unfortunately, Katie cannot answer every question, correspond directly with readers, or give professional advice.

Katie Cowan is a former commercial litigator who now runs a legal consulting and coaching practice, as well as writing for the Law Society’s “Law Talk” magazine and presenting her own podcast, The New Lawyer, available at thenewlawyer.co.nz. Check out her website for more details at: symphonylaw.co.nz. Katie’s recommendations and opinions are her own, do not represent the views of LexisNexis or its affiliates and are of a general nature. None of Katie, Symphony Law Limited or LexisNexis are responsible for any loss or damage suffered by a party as the result of following this advice, so please seek independent professional advice before relying on it. Please click here for full website terms and conditions.

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