Employment specialist Rose Alchin talks how vaccine mandates have provided guidance to employers
For Rose Alchin, agility is one important thing the legal profession needs today as it deals with unprecedented problems. The employment law specialist has helmed family-operated, Hamilton-based chambers Rose Alchin & Associates for over two decades, and the issues borne of the COVID-19 pandemic have been keeping this barrister on her toes.
Alchin, who was among the early enrolees in Waikato University then-new law school, has learned to move with the ups and downs of the legal profession, letting go of the fear of technological change over the past year. With new ways of working defining the profession, she “would be very surprised” if the industry reverts to what it was before.
In this interview, Alchin talks vaccine mandates, looking out for small-to-medium business lacking in-house support and looking ahead to “more prosperous times.”
What made you choose a career in law, and what's your favourite part of the job?
Waikato University first opened its law school when I had just finished my first degree. I had always wanted to be a lawyer, so I decided to enrol seeing as I could now pursue legal studies in Hamilton.
My favourite part of the job is when you can take away the stress and worry from someone who has come to you with a big problem that they don’t know how to deal with. They now have someone who can help them and that is very rewarding, particularly when you get a good result and get the issues resolved. This allows people and businesses to move on personally and professionally.
What is the most memorable case you've taken on/been involved in?
I had a case involving a redundancy for a client that was on parental leave. The case ended up going right through to the Court of Appeal and then back to Employment Court before finally being resolved in my client’s favour.
What is going on at the firm? Are there any new programs and initiatives that you’re particularly interested in?
We have recently moved to new premises and expanded the firm. The initiative to reach out to our local small-to-medium businesses which from time to time need assistance with employment issues but don’t have their own in-house support is very exciting.
What tech-related initiatives adopted by the firm, if any, are you most excited about?
After operating on paper for many years, we have recently moved our focus to merging all our work to a digital platform and making as much of our work electronic and paperless as possible. This has been challenging but hugely rewarding, not to mention time saving.
We have adopted various new programmes that have assisted us, and with good IT tech support, we are running more efficiently than ever before.
What has been your proudest accomplishment in the last year or so? Or what’s the biggest lesson you learned in the past year and what advice can you give fellow lawyers about it?
I am very proud of having set up a new premises and expanded our team. We set up a modern, efficient and comfortable office space which is a welcoming and fun place to work in. The team we have created works really well together, and we complement each other’s skills and areas of interest. I am thrilled that everyone loves coming to work and being part of what we have created here, and the service we are able to provide to our clients.
I think the biggest lesson I have learnt recently is not to be scared of technological change and the benefits that new ways of working can provide. Particularly with the challenges thrown up by COVID-19 and remote working, as well as remote access to Justice via the courts, etc., it is clear that there are many ways of working other than the standard model of legal practice which still deliver flexible, expert and timely provision of service to our clients and to the judicial system.
I would be very surprised if the profession goes back wholeheartedly to the old way of practice. The ability to be flexible and agile will in my view bring huge improvements to the practice of law and the profession generally. It is certainly helping us in providing prompt, efficient and timely service to all of our clients, particularly when not able to meet with our clients in person.
What should the profession and law firms focus more on?
The experience of COVID-19 lockdowns has shown how the profession can continue to provide expert and timely legal advice despite not being in an office situation or generally being able to see clients face-to-face. The focus going forward in my view needs to include being flexible and agile in the provision of legal advice and service and the ability to respond quickly to issues as they arise.
In particular, we have seen issues affecting both employers and employees in the workplace as a result of COVID-19 restrictions, government payment subsidies, vaccine mandates and the like. These all require quick, efficient and expert analysis and advice to both employers and employees alike to help navigate these unchartered waters.
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?
The business landscape is certainly challenging and uncertain at present due to the pandemic and its ensuing effect on businesses and workplaces. It can be expected that this is only going to get more challenging in the coming year. I would expect there to continue to be a number of issues arising requiring quick and informed responses to issues which affect both business owners and their employees.
We aim to keep ourselves fully informed and abreast of these developments as they present themselves and to be able to provide support and advice to people and businesses having been faced with these challenges. We know how stressful and demanding these things can be and the effect on the health of both the business itself and those employed within it. Our role is to take the pressure off by giving guidance, support and advice which allows people and businesses to move on with some confidence that they are taking the right approach in the face of these challenges. That in itself presents a challenge for the legal profession as these are often novel issues and therefore lacking precedent in how to deal with them. Nobody wants to be the test case for a challenging issue which affects many people and businesses but which is yet to have received any judicial guidance.
In this respect, the vaccine mandates have at least provided some guidance and certainty in many industries and professions around what employers need to do regarding the vaccination status of its employees. I would expect that such challenges will continue to present themselves, and the legal profession will be required to react in a fast and agile manner to provide advice to those affected as quickly as possible.
What are you looking forward to the most in the coming year?
Like all New Zealanders, I am probably looking forward to a bit more freedom to move around the country and hopefully further afield. Professionally, of course we are all looking forward to hopefully more prosperous times. That of course will come on the back of the economic position remaining stable within New Zealand and hopefully the business community remaining buoyant. This is obviously good for both employers and employees.
We want to be there to continue to provide advice and support to those experiencing challenges in the year to come, a lot of these likely to be because of the result of the COVID-19 situation and the various restrictions which have arisen as a result. We particularly look forward to supporting small-to-medium businesses which may not have in house expertise in dealing with employment-related issues as they arise.