Helping clients navigate the law's “dark and stormy waters” is what drives Phil Shamy, a Barrister and Solicitor for over 37 years. For 25 years, Phil served as a Senior Crown Counsel and was a Partner in the Crown Solicitor's Office. Catch up with Phil in this Q&A on his career, teaching at the College, and advice he has for students to make the most of PLSC.
What does your job involve?
I am a barrister. I have practised as a Barrister and Solicitor for just over 37 years.
For approximately 25 of those I was a senior Crown counsel and a partner in the Crown Solicitor’s Office here in Christchurch. For the last seven years I have practised at the Bar as a Barrister.
I am effectively a “Court lawyer”. I undertake a range of litigation in all Courts of New Zealand both appellate and first instance.
This includes civil litigation, public law and criminal law.
On a day to day basis I am either in Court, preparing for Court or seeing clients with a view to preparing them for the same.
What do you enjoy most about what you do?
Simply put, I enjoy helping people.
In my view you need a strong sense of public interest to undertake the type of work I do in the area of litigation, particularly in terms of criminal law.
There is however a great amount of satisfaction in being able to either resolve people’s problems or at least navigate them through what can often be very dark and stormy waters. This can be particularly so of young people, I have learnt that often to be old and wise you must first be young and foolish. There are also those who have made horrendous mistakes which have taken the lives of other people and will impact upon them, their families and others for many, many years.
Particularly in these cases I am not only looking to assist my client but also to minimise the stresses involved in other parties’ participation in such a case.
I am also a very firm believer in “who proves what”, by this I mean in a criminal case the Crown must prove its case and similarly in a civil case the plaintiff must prove their case. In our criminal justice system which is based on a democracy and certain inalienable rights everyone should have the right to be heard and the right to legal representation.
The law is a remarkably complex beast and seems to be becoming more so.
How did you come to work in this area?
My late father is responsible for my decision to enter the law. I am the first lawyer in my family and have subsequently been followed into this profession by my brother and my own son and daughter.
It was my father’s passion for the law that led me to undertake study at the university some 40 years ago. I am not quite sure why he was so invigorated by the law as he had no connection, direct or otherwise, with the same and indeed was very much a self-taught individual.
He did teach me along with my late mother, the need to stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves, particularly when the odds look daunting and storm clouds are very much gathering.
What advice would you have for students keen to practice in your area of law?
The key to what I do, is as a young lawyer to learn this calling from senior counsel.
What is taught at university can be academically sound, but to learn the skills of my craft you need to have experience with senior Court lawyers.
It is almost like an apprenticeship as litigation is a remarkably hard taskmaster but to have the chance of doing it and doing it well, you need to be taught. Personally, I have seen far too many fine young potential advocates disappear into firms thinking they would be litigators and unfortunately not seeing the inside of a Courtroom for six or seven years.
At the end of the day, it’s a matter of what you want out of this profession and there are lots of rewarding areas. It seems evident but if you want to be a Court lawyer you need to go to Court, you also need to be taught, you need to make mistakes and you need to learn from those mistakes.
Of particular importance, in my view, particularly as a young litigator you must not be too hard on yourself. Everyone makes mistakes, even the Judges that you now see in Supreme Courts, indeed I recall a number of them when they had not quite attained the heady heights that they have now. Suffice it to say that everyone needs to learn.
What do you enjoy about teaching at The College of Law?
The key to my enjoyment at the College, is being able to teach and hopefully assist law students to understand my particular profession.
I enjoy explaining what can appear intricate and almost quite arcane rules of Court and etiquette.
The key to remember is that this indeed is a profession.
From your perspective as an Instructor, how can students make the most of PLSC?
I think given what I teach, participation is the key.
It is completely alien as it is highly unlikely that any student has undertaken the kind of exercises that are set by the College in terms of litigation. Again, it is a learning curve and it needs application and effort.
Personally, I am a great fan of getting people on their feet and getting them talking.
I enjoy seeing people who appear at least at the beginning quite reticent develop into articulate far more confident potential young advocates by the end of the course.
It is not for everyone, however the experience needs to be as good as possible so that at least you can make an informed decision.