NZ Lawyer’s Rising Stars 2023 recognises the law leaders of those standing out in the industry

NZ Lawyer’s Rising Stars 2023 special report recognises the law leaders of tomorrow and those standing out in the industry

Previous Rising Star (2021) Alastair Espie of Duncan Cotterill talks about the effect the award had on his own legal career, and also offers his advice to the Rising Stars of 2023.

To view full transcript, please click here

Chris: [00:00:07] Welcome to New Zealand lawyer TV. My name is Chris Sweeney. I'm the managing editor here at Key Media for special reports. And today we're looking at one of our very special reports. That is New Zealand's lawyers rising stars. There's 50 winners there to 2023, the 50 best lawyers that are shining bright. They're standing out and they're making waves. And I've got a very special guest with me today to discuss the report and give further insight. And that is Alastair Espie. He is the senior associate at Duncan Cotterill in Auckland and he's an employment specialist. So thank you very much for joining me today, Alastair. 

Alastair: [00:00:45] Thanks, Chris. Great to be here. 

Chris: [00:00:47] And I didn't allude to the reason why you're such a special guest because you are one of our former rising stars. It was 2021. You won the award. 

Alastair: [00:00:55] Yeah, I think I was. It's nearly two years ago since I was on the list, so times really flown by. 

Chris: [00:01:01] And so maybe you can put us in a headspace. So when you win an award like that and you get that recognition now, what sort of effect did it have on your career personally? 

Alastair: [00:01:09] Yeah, I mean, first of all, it's just it's great getting recognized for what you're doing in this line of work is times where it's a heck of a lot of fun. There's times where every lawyer knows it can be quite challenging. So when you do get that recognition, it is quite cool to be told that you're on the right track and you know you're doing some good things. So that's the cool thing. The second part of it, though, is that it's, you know, it's just on a personal level, it's great to get a bit of exposure and it helps you build a better profile because this is a game where as lawyers, we have to sell our services. And for me personally, when I was on the list, it came at a time when I was relatively new to the Auckland market. I'd moved out from Wellington, so it helped me sort of grow a bit of awareness about what I was doing and how to build into how my career has gone since. 

Chris: [00:02:00] I mean, I don't think that's something we hear a lot about in competition with lawyers, So it is quite competitive in a sense that you're selling your services. So there's that sort of thing where you want to show your best foot, you know, build your reputation and sort of advertise that to clients and I guess prospective clients. 

Alastair: [00:02:17] Yeah. I mean, look, it's a clear it's a very collegial profession as well. And we as lawyers have quite a lot of fun and get on very, very well at times. But we are fundamentally service providers and we're trying to win the work of clients and do great work for them. And sometimes the tricky part is getting a foot in the door. So getting a bit of exposure and profile and things like rising stars help in that respect. You know, that's a huge, huge sort of help and trying to win that work. And as lawyers finds the interesting instructions that challenge us and that keep us getting up each day and coming in to do good work. 

Chris: [00:02:55] Yeah. And yourself, your approach to your job and being a lawyer. What was it that made you a rising star? You know, what do you think that makes you sort of stand out from your peers? 

Alastair: [00:03:05] Well, I don't know what made me a rising star or what convinced someone else I was. But, you know, I mean, I think the things that that I think I do well and I think are important for any, anyone who's a rising star or in that space is to first and foremost become a technical expert in the area you're working at. I think we're in a time where the law is becoming increasingly complex. It evolves rapidly and that's been particularly borne out during COVID 19. And so having that specialization and that ability to sort of provide clear, detailed and on point advice quickly about your area of expertise is important. And that's not to say there isn't a place for generalists, because I think increasingly that specialization in itself and requires a very specific skill set. But I think that's something that certainly is important and is for every young lawyer is important for them to carve out their own nation and position within the market. The other things as well as I think about providing advice that's pragmatic and commercially sensitive, you know, we're often called upon to advise clients on legal issues. And yes, there will be legal answers to those issues. But at the same time, what our clients want, I think, are solutions. So I think it's really important for lawyers to go out there and provide commercially sensitive, pragmatic advice that's actually takes into account a client's needs and circumstances. And the third thing I think is just around responsiveness. You know, I think clients really value us coming back to them quickly, again, providing advice quickly and on the spot where we can. That's not to say that sometimes you don't need to go away and and look at things, but I think that's something that every time you talk to a client about what it is that they value and what you're doing for them or their lawyers, responsiveness is always top of the list. And I think that's something every, every lawyer should put as a priority when they're trying to establish themselves. 

Chris: [00:05:06] Yeah. And I was going to actually ask you also. So I'll pick up on what you said. You mentioned how the law has changed over the last couple of years, particularly with COVID. And you said it's become more complex and in many ways for yourself. No. So looking back, maybe when you started out as a lawyer, is it better to start now or do you think, you think younger lawyers have got is that more interesting market to be part of now, New Zealand, or do you think you had it better when you started off? 

Alastair: [00:05:33] Uh, I don't know if I'd say if it's better or worse. I mean, it's different, and different is good because it keeps it interesting. And it means we're all having to learn new things. What I think there is for younger or newer lawyers is a real opportunity in the sense that, you know, through COVID 19 and I think continuing on, things have evolved hugely in a relatively short space of time. I think the idea of how we practice as lawyers has changed in some respects. You know, it's more common to be talking like this over a video call than it is to talk to clients in person. And it's also, you know, it's very common for issues to evolve rapidly. And COVID 19 is extreme. And hopefully we won't see a repeat of that too soon. But, you know, it hasn't stopped the fact that we'll change the fact that people are day to day coming up with new issues, new ways of working, which is particularly relevant to what I do, and which means that we need to think about new ways of advising and providing legal services. So I think for new lawyers, there is this opportunity to come into the workforce at a time when the way we work is changing, The way we provide services is changing, and some people grasp that quicker than others. And I think if you're coming in and this is your first exposure to the law, I think you're perfectly placed to get up to speed very, very quickly and run with that. 

Chris: [00:06:53] And you're an employment specialist. So, I mean, I think it would be it would be it would be mad to not ask you about your specialty. You know, we've got an expert here. So in terms of New Zealand employment law, you know, what are the major things right now that are sort of troubling that people should be wary of and take it in and pay attention to? 

Alastair: [00:07:11] Yeah. So I think over the last few years, COVID 19 has dominated and a lot of those points I made before about how things have changed quickly. They all really relate to the COVID 19, the impact of lockdowns and border closures and all of that. So I think the way in which people work really is one of the big issues that employment law in New Zealand least and I think around the world is having to grapple with. You know, to what extent should people be in the office or not in the office if they're working from home? How do you manage that? How do you sort of get the level of performance and supervision and management that you might have had in person? Is it better, as it were? What's happened to the team culture? So I think there's a lot of social and legal issues and all of that that the law is trying to grapple with. Right now, I think there's a lot of pressure just in terms of economies. We've obviously got the cost of living crisis and that's putting pressure on people. It's also putting pressure on businesses and where there has in recent years been a real shortage of labor. And I think there still is. And we're also at the point now with some businesses are looking at whether or not they are right sized for the economic conditions we're facing and the way things might evolve moving forward. So we are seeing a few discussions around, say, restructuring and whether or not there needs to be rolled out. And that's something that you've been seeing headlines about worldwide. And I think the other thing that's quite specific, specific to New Zealand is the fact that we've had a quite significant change in terms of the introduction of what we call fair pay agreements. So those are industry or sector wide agreements that could be negotiated by unions on behalf of all employees, not just members. Were all employers in a particular industry. That's something that was just introduced by the current government at the end of last year, and we're in the very early days of seeing what that will look like in terms of those negotiations and whether or not any will be concluded before the next election and whether this will stick around long term. And that's personally something I'm quite interested in because I have a particular interest in union and collective bargaining issues. So I do think that's quite a fascinating thing to watch and be involved with. 

Chris: [00:09:28] Talking about having an interest in shaping your career that way when you were a rising star and 2021 or before, had you already mapped out your path or would your advice be sort of like your Pathfinder or should you go in there? You know, I want to go to that place and sort of drive towards it. 

Alastair: [00:09:45] I mean, I think everyone's different. So, you know, what works for me won't necessarily work for someone else. And if you ask 20 lawyers, you'll get 20 different answers to that question. For me, I didn't have a very specific subspecialty within employment. I mean, employment is really the area I've practiced in my entire career, and I fell into it by chance. But the I loved it and stayed with it. As I've done more employment law over the years, you then sort of get within that quite a diverse range of matters and instructions to work on. And there are some you find more interesting than others. So for me that's collective bargaining union issues. I just find that that area fascinating and love working on those types of issues with clients. But then you have other sort of people who will fall into, say, investigations or particular holidays act issues or tax issues, and that's what rivets them. So, you know, I think be open to different things would be my advice. Keep in mind when you work through each matter, is it something I really like or is it something I don't like? And if it is something I like, how can I try and find more of this work? 

Chris: [00:10:54] Yeah, you've got to have that sort of initiative, you know. So I take it upon yourself. Otherwise, you know, no one's going to come to you. I think it's one of those industries where you have to maybe go and be proactive. 

Alastair: [00:11:03] Completely. Completely. And this comes back to the fact that, you know, like fundamentally, as lawyers, we're about doing the work, but we do need to win the work. We need clients to want to use us and to to trust us to provide advice on these particular issues. And in part that that comes back to profile and what I said before about that. But it also comes down to, I think, being genuinely interested in what you do. And because I think clients can tell if you're doing something you don't like, they'll say that. But if you're doing something that you find really interesting and you're passionate about, that's something that I think will draw clients to you because they want to work with someone who enjoys what they are doing and is interested in it. 

Chris: [00:11:46] Yeah, absolutely. And so bringing it right back to the start you know, this was obviously we're talking about the Rising Stars report 2023 top 50 lawyers. And it's not just those sort of saying you can shine bright and you can stand out. You're a perfect example and understand you've got some potentially some exciting career news on the horizon. 

Alastair: [00:12:05] Yeah. So I'm really lucky that in the last few months the firms invited me to join the partnership here. So subject to me fulfilling all the Law Society requirements, they'll be part of the partnership in the next few months. And that's really exciting and daunting all at the same time. But no, it's, you know, I think it all traces back to the last few years, and that starts with moving to Auckland and the opportunities I've been given here, including in terms of rising stars and then growing my practice and profile and workflow from there. 

Chris: [00:12:43] Oh, perfect. You know, you're a role model for the younger lawyers, they can sort of hopefully fall on that path. You know, maybe it's a different path. But you know, in terms of that level of success and driving yourselves forward, you know, that sure, it's possible. And congratulations. Well done to you. 

Alastair: [00:13:00] Thanks, Chris. 

Chris: [00:13:01] Thank you. Well, thank you so much for joining me. Alastair. It's been a pleasure talking to you. And the report is now live so everyone can go on there and sort of, you know, find out all the lawyers that are sort of, you know, like I say, coming up and going to stand out in the next generation. But thank you again for joining me, Alastair. It's been a pleasure talking to you. 

Alastair: [00:13:18] Thank you. And thanks, everyone, for listening. 

Chris: [00:13:20] Thanks for watching. You can now log on to New Zealand lawyer and read the full report. And we'll see you next time.