Norling Law associate on removing the financial barriers to justice

Anna Cherkashina has a solution to every problem

Norling Law associate on removing the financial barriers to justice

Behind Norling Law’s success is associate Anna Cherkashina, who knows what she wants and how to get it. From the get-go, she understood that a career in law was in the cards for her, and since then, she has gone on to become one of NZ Lawyer’s Rising Stars for 2021.

It’s worth noting that every problem she brought up in this interview also came with a solution, from the high litigation costs to the staff shortages plaguing the legal industry. However, Cherkashina can only do so much on her own, which is why she’s calling for reforming the court procedures as “an obvious starting point” to make justice more accessible to laypeople. 

In this interview, Cherkashina speaks about Norling Law’s newest ground-breaking incentive to its staff, being tapped to join the management team, and the importance of adapting to the times.

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

A career in law looked interesting, stable, and personally fulfilling.

My favourite part of the job is that it provides me with an opportunity to learn new things on a daily basis. In my view, continuously learning is essential for keeping your mind sharp, staying healthy and growing as an individual. As Tom Clancy once said, “Life is about learning; when you stop learning, you die.” Even after years of practice, my job regularly pushes me to upskill on new law areas and/or specific market subjects.

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

In June, the firm introduced an Incentive and Bonus Policy for its staff. The policy is designed to reward employees for their performance and contribution to the practice and its clients. Each financial year, the firm will contribute a set percentage of its net profits to a bonus pool. At the end of the financial year, the funds in the pool get distributed to all staff. The percentage to be received by each staff is determined through the Key Performance Indications achieved and maintained by staff throughout the year.

The policy has already provided the staff with clearer understanding of the values of the firm when it comes to client service.

I am not aware of any other law firm in New Zealand that distributes a set percentage of its net profits to its staff. We are currently in the first year of this new policy and it is particularly exciting to see the improvements it brings to the quality of service and volume of work of the firm.

What tech-related initiatives adopted by the firm, if any, are you most excited about?

The rolling out of an internal educational platform, NorLearn. NorLearn is designed to provide new staff with all necessary on-boarding information (such as office policies, manuals, and procedures) as well as on-going training for junior lawyers. NorLearn material is set out through a combination of text and interactive videos and in the long run, is aimed to make on-boarding and continuous training more efficient.

What has been your proudest accomplishment in the last year or so?

Professionally, my proudest accomplishment in the last year has been joining the management team of the firm. The firm has recently adopted a new business model for its operations and development. Through this model, a management team has been created which meets weekly to identify and address issues and opportunities in the business. I have been honoured to be selected to represent the legal department of the firm within the management team. We have undertaken management training and have already implemented various changes within the firm.

What should the profession focus more on?

Improving access to civil justice by reducing litigation costs. Currently, the litigation costs are so high that many people cannot afford to participate in a legal proceeding. After I graduated from law school and commenced my legal career, I was surprised to learn the real cost of accessing justice, and I still find this difficult to accept to date.

The obvious starting point is to reform the current court procedures. This would involve updating the current discovery regime, creating more fast-track alternatives to a standard court process, simplifying court processes so that more laypeople are able to represent themselves (including removing the requirement for a company to engage a lawyer in the High Court and enabling company officers to represent the company), and reforming the way evidence is given.

Also, there should be a drive within the law firms, with the assistance of the legal regulatory bodies, to continuously aim to reduce the cost of its services. This could be achieved by staying innovative and continuously exploring opportunities for efficiencies and overhead costs cuts.

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?

Staff shortage is the immediate challenge in the legal industry. We have been seeing delays with the progression of legal work as a result of staff shortages across numerous firms. This is particularly true for court schedules which have been significantly impacted. Legal firms and government departments now need to offer more than just high salaries in order to attract talent. There is now a higher expectation amongst the staff for flexible working and positive work culture. In my view this is a positive change overall, however, it will take some time for the industry to adjust its practices. Ultimately, these costs may be passed on to clients and this creates further issues around access to justice.

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

Finally resuming overseas travel after the COVID-19 related travel restrictions have been lifted. I have had great time travelling locally over the last 2.5 years; however, it is very exciting to again be able to visit new places and get exposure to other cultures.

If you were given an opportunity to spend a day with anyone (living or dead), who would it be and why?

My late grandfather who I grew up with. His passing away in 2018 was sudden and I was not there when it happened. There is a lot that I would like to tell and thank him for.

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