Renee Moorjani was thrust into her LLM in the midst of COVID-19; with all international law opportunities on hold, she seized the opportunity to upskill. Driven by a strong social conscience, Renee sits on the board of the New Zealand Centre for Global Studies, while working for Fyers Joyce Lawyers, a commercial law firm in Auckland CBD. Insights spoke to Renee about her hopes and goals as a lawyer and board member, how her LLM (Applied Law) majoring in In-House Practice shaped her career, and how the pandemic pushed her to pathways both unexpected and rewarding.
Striving for a world with just and sustainable global laws
Renee grew up in quite a traditional household, surrounded by a supportive family who encouraged her to be independent, and find her place in the world.
She volunteered in India’s residential villages for the elderly, and at orphanages, before completing a BSc (Bachelor of Science). Like many, she was searching for her calling.
“I knew I wanted to serve people in any way possible,” said Renee. “I wanted to be well-educated. A wonderful friend advised me that I would enjoy law school. I took her advice, and never looked back. Through my dispute resolution subjects I discovered my drive to problem-solve, look at the holistic picture, and fight for what is just and fair.”
Law gave Renee the tools to seek out solutions to issues faced by everyday people, and find better ways to protect those left out of policy decision making.
She joined the New Zealand Centre for Global Studies (NZGCS), a legacy think tank, where she met her mentor, Dr Kennedy Graham.
“I learned how I could actually implement the seeds of change through my legal career. As a legal professional involved in research and policy analysis, I could strive for a world with just and sustainable global laws. I saw how educating youth on policy matters could empower the next generation to thrive in an ever-evolving and complex world, stricken by food insecurity, trade tensions, the climate crisis, and COVID-19.”
Through her work with NZCGS and volunteering for the Equal Justice Project, Renee was inspired to forge her own definition of what it means to be a ‘good lawyer.’
How COVID-19 thwarted travel, and thrust Renee into an LLM
As the global pandemic grounded flights around the world, it also stalled Renee’s scheduled work trip to Asia, to lead her research project on Transboundary River Resource Governance with NZCGS.
With the project deferred and international law jobs on hold, Renee turned her attention to The College of Law’s LLM (Applied Law) majoring in In-House Practice.
“I cannot speak highly enough about John Steadman, the In-House lecturer,” said Renee. “He embodies all the qualities of a good teacher. Through my LLM programme, and John Steadman’s commercial law guidance, I gained the confidence and practical tools to explore commercial law, and what I could bring to the table as a commercial lawyer with a policy and justice background.”
“The College’s LLM programme helped me upskill in commercial law at a time when honing in on your knowledge and skills became essential to keep a roof over your head,” said Renee. “I specialised in In-House Practice, which helps guide you through a lawyer’s dual role as a guardian and facilitator of a business. The course is practical and equips you with tools to deal with legal project management, dispute resolution, business strategy, and much more. The programme gives you a sound foundation upon which you can build your professional practice, equipped with tools to draft good legal documents, participate in negotiations, and help optimise business opportunities.”
“The weekly assessments test your legal drafting skills and technical knowledge,” said Renee. “Lecturer feedback genuinely assists in covering the knowledge gaps assessments may uncover. The weekly lectures are scheduled before the assessments are due and provide a good foundation for your study.”
“The LLM programme helped me develop a technical understanding of how the law operates in practice, and how a lawyer can be a valuable asset to a business, possessing sound commercial expertise that may go beyond legal knowledge,” observed Renee. Studying her LLM helped her develop much-needed soft skills which many LLB graduates may not possess.
“It helped me understand why a client may approach a legal matter in a certain way, as well as our role to steer them according to our Code of Conduct and ethics.” explained Renee.
Making an impact as a junior lawyer
As a lawyer for Auckland commercial law firm Fyers Joyce Lawyers, Renee’s work focuses on business strategy, dispute resolution, and property law.
“What sets us apart from other commercial law firms is that we focus on providing practical legal advice to our clients which optimises their business opportunities and reduces their risk. We provide a range of legal options which resolve their disputes at the lowest cost to their opportunities, time and money,” said Renee.
“As a lawyer, my biggest challenge is ensuring I am doing right by the clients of our firm, and in doing so, always elevating the reputation of the legal profession,” said Renee.
As a volunteer and board member for NZGCS, she works with global academics, professionals and researchers to undertake research and run events to increase engagement with Global Education, Security, Sustainability, and Policy.
“NZCGS is a think tank which focuses on global policy issues that impact the lives of individuals as global citizens. We also focus on New Zealand’s role in researching and implementing policies that mitigate those adverse impacts in a just and sustainable manner.”
It can be a tough juggle. As a grassroots organisation with limited resources, NZGCS must select research that is both current and requires immediate attention in the global arena.
“Law should and does reflect societal norms, which in turn should be fair and peace-based. Seeing that in action through the work of NZGCS is the most rewarding aspect of my non-profit work,” said Renee.
Like many junior lawyers, Renee is keen to make an impact, but knows she is yet to possess all the knowledge or experience to help her do so effectively just yet.
“To that challenge, I say: Be alive to lessons you can learn from the challenges you face early on in your career. Learn from experienced lawyers, by watching the way they work and listening to their reasons for choosing to handle a client file a certain way. View every task as something you can learn from and do better the next time. Ask for feedback. Be proactive in trying to understand the working style of your firm, and the partners you may work under. Have a positive mindset when you are learning.”
“One of the most rewarding aspects of being a lawyer is seeing firsthand the positive impact of my work - resolving a situation or dilemma our client might be facing,” said Renee. “Helping clients see the light at the end of the tunnel, or being able to help optimise their business opportunities, or resolve a dispute at the lowest cost possible, makes all the years studying to become a lawyer well worth it.”
To succeed, always be a learner
For lawyers new to undertaking The College of Law LLM, Renee’s primary advice is to “always be a learner.”
“This stands whether you are studying at The College, or in your work,” said Renee.
“Stay on top of your study,” advised Renee. “Online learning can be challenging. You have to hold yourself to account, often after a full day’s work. Do it. The courses are designed for working students. Prepare for and attend your classes. Don’t be afraid not to know something; ask questions of your peers and lecturers. There is wisdom in counsel.”
She also encouraged postgraduate students to take the time to get to know their peers.
“Set up group chats, start conversations, and remain in touch with your classmates throughout your courses,” said Renee. “You will feel less lonely and have peers with whom to bounce ideas, in the event that you are struggling with anything. Take the initiative to do this.”
Finally, Renee urged LLM students to develop a good working relationship with their lecturers.
“A commercial lawyer is as good as their professional network,” said Renee. “Be proactive about developing working relationships with peers and professors. The College lecturers are experienced practitioners who choose to give back to the legal profession through their teaching. This makes them approachable and genuinely willing to help with your professional development. Set up video calls to catch up, or even to discuss your feedback with your lecturer.”