Lawyers must strike value balance for clients

Buddle Findlay senior associate Bridgette White explains why extremes could really hurt law firms’ businesses

Lawyers must strike value balance for clients
Value will differentiate lawyers and law firms in the eyes of clients, Bridgette White believes.

The Buddle Findlay senior associate, who has practiced in both New Zealand and the UK, says that the profession must focus more on the value they provide to clients if they want to improve their fortunes this year. At either of the extremes of the spectrum, firms will just be hurting their business.

“More firms need to focus on providing a high-quality service at a reasonable price. Too often, lawyers will be cheap, but the work plainly isn't up to scratch. Similarly, not every job needs to be a Rolls-Royce undertaking,” she says.

In this interview, the commercial litigation expert also talks about the biggest challenges that her specialty may face this year, and how a Kiwi trait could be hurting lawyers’ reputation-building.

What made you choose a career in law?

My other degree was in theatre so my life certainly could have gone down a very different path. Ultimately, the nerd in me won. I was drawn to the intellectual challenge, the idea of solving problems for others and the more diverse career opportunities that law would bring.

What do you love most about your job?

I love the art of crafting a persuasive argument. I also find great satisfaction in finding effective solutions and getting a good result for my clients.

What is going on at the firm? Are there any new programs or initiatives that you’re particularly interested in?

Aside from the usual cutting-edge work and projects that Buddle Findlay is involved in, Buddle Findlay is also a key sponsor of the Halberg Disability Sport Foundation. Buddle Findlay is providing the foundation with financial assistance and legal support, and the firm's staff will also be provided with volunteer opportunities at the foundation's key regional fundraising events. This is a fantastic initiative and a great way for the firm and its staff to maintain a positive involvement in the community.

What has been your proudest accomplishment in 2017?

Having spent a portion of 2017 on maternity leave, I must say first and foremost, my proudest accomplishment is seeing my little boy through his first year of life without causing any apparent long-term physical or psychological harm. Professionally, it was satisfying to have the SFO investigation close their investigation into Zespri late last year, a matter which I had been working on since 2013.

Bridgette White

What should the profession and law firms focus more on?

Value. More firms need to focus on providing a high-quality service at a reasonable price. Too often, lawyers will be cheap, but the work plainly isn't up to scratch. Similarly, not every job needs to be a Rolls-Royce undertaking. Both extremes can result in a significant disservice to the client. Firms need to focus on making the right judgement call about when it is appropriate to stop researching possible arguments and fine-tuning contractual clauses.

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

I am guilty of the Kiwi – and also very female – tendency to play down your successes and be self-deprecating. However, over the past year I have become more aware that this does nothing to further your reputation as a quality practitioner, particularly when there are others who are happy to play up their achievements. I am working on owning my accomplishments and I urge others to do the same, even if it does not come naturally. It is possible to let people know that you have done great work and not come across like Trump. It is just a case of practice.

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?

In my view, one of the biggest challenges for the legal industry, both locally and internationally, will be technology's rapid transformation of business and how that transformation marries with current legal principles and processes. The fact is, businesses are becoming increasingly reliant on new technology for communicating and transacting. Consider cryptocurrencies, blockchain and smart contracts, for example. What will happen when a dispute arises out of a smart contract that is coded on a binary, “if A, then B” basis? The enforcement, jurisdictional, liability and contractual interpretation issues that will inevitably arise out of smart contracts that cannot be “coded” into the terms are complex. There is also significant risk in the lack of regulation of cryptocurrencies. These issues are all presently unchartered in our legal systems and the outcomes could have substantial implications for both businesses and consumers. This is particularly so given that, at least internationally, the commercial use of this technology is taking off faster than the legal system is producing answers or solutions to these issues.

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

Getting my teeth into some exciting new litigation. Also, watching Donald Trump and the 2018 midterm elections. It will be a circus.

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