Five minutes with… Tamara Ford

NZLawyer talks with Tamara Ford about assessing honesty in clients, the importance of kindness and aspirations of being Thomas the Tank Engine

What made you decide to become a lawyer?
As a child, I went through the usual process of wanting to be a ballerina or a princess. I even wanted to be Thomas the Tank Engine at one point – that’s how obsessed I was with him at age three.
Being a lawyer was the first job that I ever wanted to be that was actually realistic and achievable. I was probably eleven when I made that decision. I glamourised it a bit because I used to watch shows like Boston Legal. That put the idea into my head and it grew from there.
How long have you worked at Gillespie Young Watson and what brought you to this position?
I’ve been here for about four months now. I was working at Dunedin Community Law Centre about eight months prior to that. It was a really good start to my career but it wasn’t quite where I wanted to be permanently. I also wanted to move out of Dunedin so I looked for opportunities here in Wellington and found Gillespie Young Watson in Lower Hutt. I’d always wanted to give property law a go so it was perfect.
What’s the most memorable case you’ve ever worked on/been involved with?
The most memorable would be when I was at the law centre. It was a client who was evicted from their flat. There were a lot of lies and shouting over the phone. There were dogs which may or may not have even existed. We don’t know. The flat turned up on the front page of the newspaper later and it’s been burnt to a crisp under suspicious circumstances. I never heard from my client again.
This happened within my first month. It was a great experience though. I guess I learned not to trust everybody. They always tell you in law school and even on the job that your clients aren’t always going to be honest with you. It’s not an ideal way to think about your clients but that showed me sometimes you are going to come across the odd client who’s a bit more difficult to deal with.
If you could invite three people for dinner, dead or alive and excluding family and friends, who would they be and why?
I would probably say Roald Dahl, Anne Boleyn and Helen of Troy. With Helen, I’d love to see what the big deal was all about. Anne Boleyn would probably be quite jealous of her. I grew up reading Roald Dahl’s books and I think he’s quite inspirational. I’m not sure how they’d all go together!
Where’s the best place to go for a drink and/or dinner after work in Wellington?
I’d say the Little Beer Quarter on Edward Street. I only just recently discovered it myself but it’s a great place. It’s a nice environment. It’s tucked away down an alleyway but it’s still busy. It has craft beers there as well. I haven’t tried the food yet but I’ve heard very good things about the pizzas.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given (work or personal)?
In terms of work, “Never make assumptions”. I suppose that ties in earlier about what I said about clients potentially lying to you. I think it was my boss at the community centre who said that to me first and it stuck with me.
In terms of personal advice, one of the partners here was giving me advice during my first month about my career and what to do if I was ever unsure of things. None of that stuck, but what he said after that did. He said the best advice he could ever give to his children was to always be kind. I thought that was perfect. I think kindness is one of the most basic qualities that we forget about in day-to-day life.
Do you have any hobbies/interests outside of work?
I always wish I had some kind of outrageous hobby I could share with people who asked me this, like building robots or geocaching or astrophotography. I don’t have anything like that unfortunately. I just enjoy reading, cooking, getting outdoors. I dabble in a bit of sewing. Recently I decided to get back into dancing so I can add that to the list. I run a lot as well.
Complete this sentence: If I wasn’t a lawyer, I would be…
I think I would have liked to be either a television journalist or a nutritionist. Or Thomas the Tank Engine. Apparently when I was younger, I wanted to grow up to be Thomas or a train.
What do you think will be single biggest issue facing the legal space in New Zealand in 2016?
I think access to justice. It’s always been an issue. It’s being talked about a lot more now but whether or not that makes a change, we’ll need to see. Legal fees are so expensive these days and as much as everyone has the opportunity to seek legal advice when everything’s falling down around them, they often can’t afford it.
If you had John Key’s job for one day, what would you do?
I wouldn’t want his job. One day wouldn’t be long enough to implement any kind of change. It would be long enough for me to put my foot in my mouth though and have a good portion of the New Zealand population ridiculing me on social media. So no, I think I’ll stay away from that one.
What do you love about your job?
There are a lot of things I love about my job. My colleagues are fantastic. They are a very hardworking, honest bunch and they’ve made me feel very welcome. They’ve been very supportive. That sounds a bit sappy though. Oh, one of the partners often gets us to stay after work to try out the new wines they have for referral clients. It’s absolutely dreadful. Who wants to stay late drinking wine and having a laugh?
What would you change about your job right now if you could?
Maybe less of a commute but I chose to live in Wellington rather than Lower Hutt. I don’t think there’s anything I would change about the firm.

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