Buddle Findlay's Christchurch office head was the first lawyer in her family

Jan Etwell "had no clue" what being a lawyer would be like

Buddle Findlay's Christchurch office head was the first lawyer in her family
Jan Etwell

Jan Etwell didn’t know what a career as a lawyer would be like, as she wound up being the first in her family to go down this path. But she wound up enjoying law’s discipline and logic, and it led her to where she is now – on the board of Buddle Findlay.

In the second part of this May interview, Etwell teases an upcoming change for the Christchurch office, what her alternate career would be, and the importance of looking after people well.

What made you choose a career in law, and what's your favourite part of the job?

There are no lawyers in my family, and I really didn’t have a clue what being a lawyer would be like when I started my studies. I was lucky enough to get accepted into the second year and found that I liked the discipline and logic of law, plus I have always enjoyed writing (I majored in English for my Arts degree).

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My favourite part of the job is problem solving and the mental challenge and satisfaction of working through complex tasks with my team and our clients.

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?

I think there are two key challenges facing us right now: One is the difficulty in attracting and retaining legal talent. I see part of the response to this as ensuring that we look after our people well, we are mindful of their wellbeing, we reward them appropriately and we ensure that their workplace is a great place to be.

The other challenge is figuring out how the development of artificial intelligence is going to affect the work of our lawyers and our business generally, and how we can make the most of the opportunities it brings.

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

The Christchurch office is soon to shift to new premises. It is somewhat of a homecoming for many of us as we are heading back to Cathedral Square, a block away from where we were located until the February 2022 earthquake. I remember looking out from under my desk and seeing the spire of the Christ Church Cathedral fall that day – it is sad to think that we may not ever see it resurrected. In any event, there is a real buzz in our office right now as we start preparing for the move.

They say a change is as good as a holiday and everyone seems really excited about the move back into the centre of town. We'll be sharing more about our office move with NZ Lawyer soon.

If you weren’t in law, what do you think you’d be doing as a career?

I would probably be some sort of journalist – newspaper or magazine, I think! I was very inspired by a talk I attended in my last year of school by the late Brian Priestly, who was head of the journalism course at Canterbury University at that time. I was an avid follower of his newspaper columns and follower of his TV programme, Fourth Estate. Looking back, I am probably pretty lucky that I didn’t follow that pathway given how difficult it is for print journalists these days.

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