'Slow down to speed up,' Henderson Reeves director says

Shelley Funnell talks the "unexpected" achievement of becoming a director at her age

'Slow down to speed up,' Henderson Reeves director says
Shelley Funnell

Shelley Funnell entered the law in an unorthodox way when she initially trained as a quantity surveyor and found herself enjoying the legal aspect of her training. Today, as a lawyer focusing on transactional work at Henderson Reeves, Funnell welcomes the challenges of complicated matters.

Funnell ascended to the role of director last September alongside Taina Henderson and Nicole Dore – an achievement she says came as “unexpected” but “extremely satisfying”. In this interview conducted after the announcement of her promotion, Funnell talks about the initial “nightmare” of adapting to a practice management system, learning to take her time, and approaching clients as friends.

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

I trained as a quantity surveyor of all things, which was totally unsuited to my strengths. I liked the law segment of the training though, and went back to school so I could go to law school in Wellington. Haven’t looked back since.

I love transactional work the most, the more complicated the better. And making that transaction as easy and seamless for the client as possible.

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

We are starting to reap the rewards of our monthly coaching sessions and personality-type training. It is really exciting to watch our team reach and surpass their goals, and to appreciate all our special characteristics that contribute to our high-performing team. We are truly more than the sum of our parts.

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

Our practice management system was a nightmare to start as we all struggled to adapt our practice to the system. However, it was a huge asset during Covid lockdowns, and it is facilitating great efficiencies within our team so that we can concentrate on adding value for our clients. It also means that we use way less paper.

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

Becoming a director at my age after a very long hiatus to raise my family was unexpected and extremely satisfying.

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

My biggest lesson this last year is slow down to speed up. I am learning to take my time and do it right the first time. Not easy for a quick thinker!

What should the profession focus more on?

I can see the profession is moving away from the fusty old model when people dressed up to see their bank manager and lawyer. It still has a little way to go. I think that it is harder to explain complex matters in simple terms, but I always aim to treat my clients as if they are my friend. Be friendly and approachable.

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?

On a daily basis, I see that there are many people out there who have to give in because they don’t have the money to go to court – particularly separated women with no money to pay for a good lawyer or a purchaser that is getting a bad deal from a developer. Really unfair.

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

Consolidating our wonderful team in Auckland, doing great work for great clients, and having some fun after a hectic couple of years.

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

My nana. She was a lovely but tenacious lady who left an abusive husband and worked in a car painting factory. I would ask her all the questions I didn’t know to ask her when I was young.


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