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Career Options for Lawyers
After admission to practice, most graduates are employed as a solicitor.
A solicitor is typically the first point of contact for a person seeking legal advice and assistance. Common responsibilities are:
- Advising clients about their legal rights and obligations
- Assisting corporations and other organisations with compliance
- Preparing legal documents (including wills and contracts)
Type of Practice
You may choose to start in private practice as an employed solicitor. This may be with a small, medium or large firm – regionally, or in the suburbs or city. Each type of firm has different opportunities for new lawyers so you need to consider your personal objectives before choosing where you would like to work.
The career path of a solicitor in private practice typically looks like this:
Unlike other law firms, sole practices have only one principal solicitor who owns the practice and employs other solicitors and staff.
Sole practices make up a large percentage of law firms. Because of the small size of these practices, you are likely to obtain very broad, hands-on experience.
To become a principal (partner) of a law firm or a sole practitioner, you may need to undertake a Stepping Up Course to satisfy the requirements of the Law Society.
There are many benefits to joining a regional firm.
Regional firms generally offer opportunities not available in city law firms – partly in an attempt to attract quality employees. For example, a regional firm will probably give you:
Size of firm
With up to five partners, a small firm will expose you to every area of law that the firm specialises in.
As a graduate lawyer in a small firm, you are likely to have almost immediate responsibility for client briefs – giving you more experience more quickly than at a larger firm.
With six to 20 partners, medium firms have a broader range of work than small firms and sole practices – but often in more specialist areas.
Generally speaking, the larger the firm, the more specialised your work will be. However, you may be able to move from one practice area to another within a medium firm (e.g. from litigation to corporate law).
Large firms have more than 20 partners. They often have very structured recruitment, induction and training programs and complex infrastructures. Many large firms also run ongoing legal education and training and pro-bono initiatives.
Compared to smaller firms, large firms tend to offer a wider spectrum of practice areas.
Barristers receive work by referral from solicitors and are engaged to represent clients in court.
Barristers are generally required to:
- Have a sound knowledge of the rules of evidence and court procedure
- Determine the appropriate strategy and arguments to be presented in court
- Give advice on matters of law within their expertise (verbally or in writing)
As a barrister you will operate as an independent legal practitioner and will not work for a firm or in partnership with other barristers. However, you may choose to share chambers (in the same building or floor) with other barristers to save on costs relating to legal secretaries and clerks.
For more information on the practising requirements for barristers, please visit the New Zealand Law Society website.
Although you may aspire to become a judge or magistrate one day, you may want to consider other roles within the court system – such as a Judge’s Associate.
As a Judge’s Associate you will essentially act as an assistant to the judge. You will prepare and maintain paperwork, undertake research for cases and liaise with other court staff to schedule hearings and set trial dates. You will also sit in court with the judge.
Judge’s Associate positions are generally not advertised and can be very competitive. So if you hear of a vacancy, be sure to submit your resume immediately (directly to the court concerned).
Other support staff roles in the courts include:
- Legal assistants
- Law clerks
in-house lawyer or counsel
As an in-house lawyer or counsel, you will provide legal advice to the corporation you work for. You will be expected to:
- Hold expertise in your employer’s area of business
- Manage corporate risk and compliance
- Manage change within the organisation
- Bring in external counsel where necessary
In-house roles often cover many different areas of law – unlike private practice where the work tends to be more specialised.
The professional association for in-house lawyers is the In-house Lawyers Association of New Zealand.
Another key role is company secretary. This is often held by someone with legal qualifications.
Many interesting legal roles exist in government departments, statutory authorities and regulatory bodies. The Government Legal Network has an annual graduate programme – with opportunities in legal, policy, research and advisory positions.
To find jobs in the government sector, you can either:
- Check the Government Legal Network (GLN) website
- Check each individual government department website
Below is a list of government departments that recruit lawyers.
Provides comprehensive, no-fault personal injury cover for all New Zealand residents and visitors to New Zealand.
Provides legal advice and representation to the government in matters affecting the executive, particularly in the areas of criminal, public and administrative law.
A Crown agency that provide rental housing for people in need.
Collects most of the revenue that government needs to fund its programmes. It also administers a number of social support programmes.
Promotes the systematic review, reform and development of the law in New Zealand.
MFAT advances the Government's international priorities. The organisation interprets changes, provides advice to the Government on their implications, and then acts to promote and protect New Zealand's interests.
The Ministry administers the court system, the legal aid system and the Public Defence Service. It collects and enforces fines and civil debs. It also provides policy advice on matters related to justice and the administration of the law, and negotiates Treaty of Waitangi settlements for the Crown.
Handles complaints and investigates administrative conduct of state sector agencies.
The PCO is New Zealand's law drafting office. it is responsible for drafting and publishing New Zealand Government Bills and Legislative Instruments.
The central public service department of New Zealand charged with advising the government on economic and financial policy, assisting with improving the performance of New Zealand's economy, and managing financial resources.
Other government departments that recruit lawyers include:
- Financial Markets Authority
- Public Defence Service
- Serious Fraud Office
- Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment
Community Law Centre
Community Law Centres (CLCs) are not-for-profit, community-based organisations that have been advocating for equitable access to the justice system for over 40 years. CLCs:
- Provide free legal advice, casework and information to the disadvantaged and to those with special needs
- Deliver community development services to local or special interest communities
- Promote law reform and conduct test cases where laws are operating unfairly or are unclear