How many lawyers do you have at AlexanderDorrington?
We have nine lawyers, including me and Jourdan Griffin, our other Director. We also have four legal executives.
As a director of a boutique firm, you must be busy with your clients and managing the firm. How do you work with senior lawyers on a day-to-day basis?
I enjoy coaching and teaching and get a lot of energy from it. One of my seniors asked me why I did not become a teacher.
It’s finding the right balance one-to-one so a senior lawyer is constantly growing and stretching their skills yet they feel supported and know there is someone there they can turn to.
It’s not always about just providing answers though. It’s also taking the senior on the journey so they get to the answer themselves. That’s a whole lot more rewarding!
The other key part is making sure there is always good context and understanding of who the client is and what they need. No good producing a beautiful 5-page opinion if the client wants 5 bullet points.
What about junior lawyers? Do they work alongside a director or with a senior lawyer?
This is mixed. I delegate to our graduate lawyers and junior lawyers directly too. It depends on what work has come in and who is the right fit. Also, who has capacity and if they have worked with the client previously.
Juniors also receive work from other seniors and our senior legal executives. We run quite a flat structure and we all learn from each other and focus on the delivery of great work to the client.
It’s not about a pyramid structure where work must only filter from the top down.
What type of work is on your senior lawyers’ desks at the moment?
Some really interesting work for great clients!
- Multiple large land subdivisions, for example, a 6-stage subdivision of 700 lots.
- A sale of an apartment development to Kāinga Ora.
- The purchase of a hotel.
- Multiple unit title developments and redevelopments.
- A unit title plan cancellation and sale.
- The purchase of management rights.
- Development finance for a pre-sold development.
- The purchase and development of land for build-to-rent.
- Multiple projects for community housing providers including dealing with the MHUD team and joint venture partners.
- Commercial leases for retail and industrial tenancies (the biggest with a rent roll of $1m per year).
- Multiple terraced developments.
- The sale and purchase of industrial land for owner-occupiers.
- Commercial lending to clients secured over their business assets and land.
- NZS3910 and NZS3916 construction contracts.
- Multiple acquisition contracts for a property investment business.
… Should I stop there or keep going?
At what level do lawyers get client contact?
Graduates are invited into meetings with clients to watch and learn. After a few months, they are given opportunities to liaise with clients.
Once they have the necessary capability they are managing their own files. Generally, a lawyer will get client contact much earlier in their career in a boutique or small firm than in a large firm.
I recall my early days at a large firm where client contact was rare. It’s different for my team here. Knowing and interacting directly with clients is a key part of a lawyer’s learning.
Why would a lawyer from a big firm come to AlexanderDorrington?
Lawyers from the big firms see a move to a boutique firm like ours as an opportunity to have more autonomy over the way they work. To have more client contact and as a pathway to partnership.
Traditionally lawyers have also come to work at AD for the culture and work-life balance. We pride ourselves on our culture. Many of our people have been with us for years and years!
Do senior lawyers have the opportunity to mentor junior staff?
Yes, we have a formal mentoring programme in place where senior lawyers are paired with junior lawyers. All staff are welcome to take part, whether they are a secretary wishing to become a legal executive or a graduate straight from law school.
Do you have a formal professional development programme for lawyers?
Developing our people is one of our strong suits. At the beginning of each year, everyone needs to figure out their learning goals for the year. Each person is then given a budget to achieve those goals. It can be used for webinars, seminars, conferences and workshops.
We also have monthly Lunch ‘n’ Learns for the whole firm. These are a mixture of external and internal presenters. The topics are varied and could relate to law, property, technology or wellness. We also encourage our people to present a Lunch ‘n’ Learn to the team on a topic that interests them.
The mentoring programme I mentioned above is beneficial for both the mentee and the mentor. Our weekly Monday morning meetings also have a learning component to them. These meetings are for the whole firm and are a useful time to talk about law changes or updates from the Property Law Section.
And most importantly, all our people have access to Jourdan and me at any time. We both make ourselves available. Every day is made up of teaching moments, for all of us!
Is there formal career progression at AlexanderDorrington?
We have a formal progression plan for lawyers, moving from solicitor to senior solicitor to associate to senior associate.
Our legal assistants might be on a path to legal executive. At AD we are small enough to know each individual well and know what they want from their career.
Not everyone is the same and whilst one person might want to make it to partnership, another may not. We personalise career progression for each person.
Are lawyers expected to be involved with business development?
Yes, we encourage all our people to get involved. We particularly encourage lawyers to first figure out where their strengths and interests lie. It might be writing articles, it might be presenting to other lawyers, it might be networking, or it might be social media.
What happens when you lose lawyers at the 2-4 year level for their OE?
I spent six years in the UK myself, working at two large London firms and in-house for a year. That experience was invaluable when I came back to NZ to further my career (and it was great fun whilst I was away!).
So when someone at AD comes to us to say they want to head overseas, I get it. One of our legal executives is overseas right now spending three months travelling. We are lucky, she is coming back to us in October.
We’ve had a few people head overseas (lawyers included), returning to AD afterwards. Two of our long-standing employees (Rachael Stevenson and Kylee Carbines) both did and are still with us today.
What do you think sets AlexanderDorrington apart from other firms?
Me and Jourdan. We are the best. haha!
How would you describe the culture at AlexanderDorrington?
We are hardworking, passionate and ambitious but also respectful, collegial and fun. We encourage honesty and reward hard work; caring about each other and trusting that we have each other’s backs.
What benefits do you have in place for staff?
First and foremost we pay well and offer a great culture. On top of that we have a lot of the usual perks like bonuses, a day off on your birthday, free gym in our building, a mobile phone plan for all staff, free legal fees for personal property work, weekly fruit box, a coffee machine and of course many and varied social activities.
What are your views on flexi-working and what does it look like at AlexanderDorrington?
We’ve had some of our people working differently from the norm for more than 15 years, long before COVID and the new WFH trend.
So we’ve been refining how it works at AD for a long time and we have quite clear policies on this. To be honest it isn’t always easy to balance what clients need versus what employees want. We are, after all, in the service industry and clients just want their work done.
We also need to balance the needs of the whole firm versus individuals. Law firms are like training hospitals, juniors and new staff need to work alongside seniors to learn. However, we want our people to be happy and to thrive and have good lives, so we do work hard to make our flexi-environment successful.
Flexi working at AD includes some parents finishing on time to do the school run, a few people who WFH one day a week, and some who live far away so they start early and finish early.
We can also take time out to get to appointments or sporting commitments during the working week, or WFH to meet tradespeople. The whole team must work together and communicate well to make a flexi-environment work.
We see flexi-working as a two-way street and it’s really important to our team culture that anyone working flexibly recognises that and considers their personal needs against that background.
What advice do you have for lawyers at the start of their careers?
Learn every day and do not stand still. Be open to that and do not be fearful of what you do not know. Embrace every opportunity, every invite, and every bit of wisdom that is shared.
Become an expert. That expertise is valuable in a small market like New Zealand as it allows you to make a personal mark. Design the life you want but do not be scared to commit when you find your place and embrace that commitment.