‘Humour can be a valuable tool to employ with clients,’ national firm’s partner says
For Hamish Selby, he didn’t choose law – law chose him. His “affinity for words and people” and love of debate made going into the legal profession a natural path for him, and today, the IP specialist, who co-leads Buddle Findlay’s national IP practice, is proud to have been part of some memorable cases.
Finally making partner at Buddle Findlay was a dream come true for Selby, but he cautions young lawyers against being impatient with their career progression and taking themselves too seriously. Progression won’t happen overnight, he says, but hard work and dedication will win out.
In this interview, Selby talks the experience of being welcomed into the partnership in a Whakatu ceremony, the value of humour in tense situations like litigation and working through a 25-year long trademark dispute.
What made you choose a career in law, and what's your favourite part of the job?
I think law chose me because I have an affinity for words and people. My strongest subjects at school were English, Social Studies and History, so in some ways, law was a natural career path for me – albeit I did dabble in science with my biochemistry degree and was keen to pursue medicine. My parents and brother would say I was always going to be a lawyer because I was fond of a robust debate! I have also enjoyed the challenge of arguing something from the opposite side.
The favourite part of my job is working with some very talented people (clients and colleagues alike), having exposure to cutting edge technologies and getting great insight into so many business sectors and understanding how they work.
What is the most memorable case you've taken on/been involved in?
I have been involved in many memorable matters, including settling a trademark dispute that had dragged on for 25 years. Recently I assisted a not-for-profit organisation in successfully navigate its way through a trademark dispute, which enabled the client to keep using its name for its fundraising activities in connection with its anti-human trafficking programmes.
What is going on at the firm? Are there any new programs and initiatives that you’re particularly interested in?
We are very busy as a firm – despite COVID-19 conditions there is lots of activity in the New Zealand and overseas markets, where our clients operate. We also have some very dedicated members of the firm who are very active in promoting environmental awareness and sustainable practices to reduce our waste and carbon footprint.
We have a very active D&I committee who continue to promote initiatives to increase awareness of D&I issues and ultimately the representation of people in our firm from all parts of society, which can only make us stronger as a firm. We have recently introduced a nationwide Te Reo programme, which is very popular. It's oversubscribed, and we have a waiting list – I hope to make the cut for the next intake!
I am also proud to say the firm hosted a Whakatu ceremony to celebrate the appointment of myself and Mere King as partners. The ceremony welcomed us into the Buddle Findlay partnership in accordance with te ao Māori and tikanga, along with our people, whānau and Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei. It also illustrates the significant changes that have taken place since I started my legal career – as back then, I could not have imagined an entire firm, including partners, singing a waiata to new partners!
What has been your proudest accomplishment in the last year or so?
Becoming a partner at Buddle Findlay and co-leading the national IP team. It has always been my goal to be a partner since I started here.
What’s the biggest lesson you learned in the past year and what advice can you give fellow lawyers about it?
I don't really have a lesson from the last year, although my advice to fellow practitioners, especially young practitioners, is to be patient with their career. Things will not happen overnight in terms of career progression. There will also be many lows (failure does happen) and many highs (happy clients and excellent outcomes) but, in the end, hard work and dedication will reap rewards and provide career fulfilment.
At the same time, do not take yourself too seriously and make sure you have fun in what you do. Humour can be a valuable tool to employ with clients, especially in tense and high stakes matters such as litigation. Also, relish the many people you meet along your career, given legal opponents often become colleagues, mentors and friends over time.
I would strongly encourage young practitioners to take advantage of mentor programmes that are out there, and I know that many senior practitioners are more than happy to provide their time and knowledge – I decided to specialise in IP based on a meeting I had with a senior practitioner, who gave up an entire morning to talk to me about IP and the joys pf practising in this field. I've also been lucky to have three senior practitioners who have provide advice and guidance to me over the years – having someone listen and to act as soundboard is incredibly helpful and, in all honesty, can maintain your sanity.
What should the profession and law firms focus more on?
In my view, we need to be more protective of our people, as we do a tough job that has huge time pressure demands and the stress levels can be very high. For example, when people are on leave, they should be free to enjoy their time away from the office without distraction (mobile phones and connectivity can be a curse) so they can get plenty of R&R.
We should always be looking to do things smarter and not harder – clients appreciate efficiency, and we should be constantly striving to do better. The principles of kaizen (continuous improvement) should be adopted by all!
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?
I see the challenges coming from disruptive enterprises and technologies, including AI. The global legal market is estimated to be over one trillion by 2025, and no doubt there are companies looking to take a slice of that market. That said, it’s likely the disruptors will target the commodity end of the legal market (in fact, there are already several service providers already operating).
In any case, no matter what technologies can be applied to legal services, there is no substitute for the client-practitioner relationship, which is fundamentally based on trust – and as far as I am aware, no technology has been able to replicate that – frankly, I hope it never can!
What are you looking forward to the most in the coming year?
As always, the Christmas-summer holiday period. It's a magical time of year, where lawyers (as well as the rest of NZ) can clock off for 2-3 weeks, put their feet up, forget about work and enjoy the summer weather and all that comes with it. I'm also a Christmas tragic and start my countdown for the festive season from 25 June every year!