Bell Gully senior associate opens up about the importance of mental health support

Sam Hiebendaal talks about supporting not just clients during COVID-19, but colleagues as well

Bell Gully senior associate opens up about the importance of mental health support
Sam Hiebendaal

Sam Hiebendaal may have initially entered the legal profession for the intellectual challenge, but these days, his focus has shifted. The Bell Gully senior associate has found his joy in being able to help clients handle complicated matters through his expertise in litigation, dispute resolution and competition law.

Hiebendaal has gone through his own tough times, however, with a stint in London that left him feeling “pretty blue.”

In this interview, Hiebendaal talks about how his experience helped him realise the value of addressing mental-health issues, and the importance of supporting not just clients, but colleagues as well, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

What made you choose a career in law?

Initially I was attracted to the intellectual challenge. That still appeals, but these days it’s more about helping clients navigate difficult and complex problems, and trying to find a solution that works for them.

What do you love most about your job?

It’s rewarding to be able to bring clarity and reassurance to people in what are otherwise confusing and stressful situations, and to work with impressive, like-minded colleagues. Looking at the bigger picture, I really value the constitutional role that lawyers play.  

What is going on at the firm?

Across the firm, we’re focused on supporting our clients and each other through the unique and ongoing challenges associated with COVID-19. Of course, we’re doing this remotely at the moment, so we’re regularly catching up with each other to make sure everyone has the support they need.

What’s the biggest lesson you learned in the past year and what advice can you give fellow lawyers about it?

The importance of talking about and taking actions to promote mental health. Before returning to New Zealand, there was a period in London when I felt pretty blue, and I really valued being able to talk to my supervising partners about that. One of them opened up about having been depressed previously and they encouraged me to talk to a professional. I did, and after only one session I felt a real weight had been lifted. My advice would be that if you’re not feeling quite right, find someone you can talk to about it—whether it's someone you know or through one of the many services that are available through the New Zealand Law Society and otherwise.

What are the challenges you expect in your practice, and in the business of law in general, going forward? What challenges are particularly pressing in the country’s legal industry?

As with many industries, gender equality and diversity are vital considerations for the profession. Both during my time in London and at Bell Gully, I’ve seen a great range of talented people coming through the ranks—but there is a quite a lot more still to be done.

What are you looking forward to the most in the coming year?

Coming out of lockdown, and being able to reconnect with people face-to-face!

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