09 April 2019

A career in law is what you make of it, says partner Greg Woollaston

Published on 09 April 2019

There is no denying that the law has changed. In a career that has spanned both the city and regional hubs, Greg Woollaston has seen all the forms and variations of how the law might be practised.

Greg is now a partner of Jacobs Florentine Lawyers, based in Palmerston North, New Zealand, and a lecturer in the College of Law’s LLM. Insights spoke to Greg about what he finds most fulfilling about his work as a regional lawyer and lecturer, and what advice he might have for new lawyers looking to succeed in changing profession.

 

More diversity of practice as a regional lawyer

“Law in larger centres tends to result in comparatively narrow specialisations developing,” observed Greg. “Certainly, that was my experience over the five or six years of ‘big city’ work I undertook in New Zealand and overseas.”

By contrast, practising in the provinces involves a much broader range of practice areas.

“It presents an opportunity to explore more of the commercial, educational, property and social issues that law can interface with.”

Technology has helped overcome some of the challenges of practising law regionally.

“Traditionally regional practice, at a refined level, presented some challenges,” said Greg. “However, enhanced IT and research systems, combined with ultra-fast fibre, means that provincial practice enjoys access to the same levels of resource as do providers working in the commercial hubs, while maintaining all the benefits of a relaxed lifestyle and ‘rush-minute’ traffic.”

 

Helping people is key motivator

Greg started out as a finance and enforcement solicitor. This routinely brought him into contact with relationship property matters.

“This would, at times, involve dealing with the difficult dynamic whereby one relationship participant has ‘run the finances’ (over a cliff) and the other has just signed the personal guarantees presented to them without really understanding their exposure,” Greg said. “From an interest in relationship property, I began dealing with issues touching upon insolvency in estates, and from there asset protection and estate planning; essentially specialising in giving advice as to how to avoid the pitfalls that I saw people falling into on the ‘other side’ of my finance enforcement portfolio of work.

“It sounds like a cliché, but helping people is a key motivator for me,” said Greg. Being able to assist is particularly rewarding in matters that involve contentious relationship property or trust administration.

“It is not unusual to encounter someone who has committed their life’s work to a relationship, commonly upon the assurance that the trust, or nominally separate property, ‘is all ours, to be shared’, only to find themselves devoid of provision at the failure of the relationship.”

Greg also thrives on the intellectual stimulation of his work.

“The law is a great place to work,” said Greg. “It presents a diversity of challenges, and we are lucky to engage with this calibre of colleagues and students on a daily basis.”

 

 Teaching from ‘the trenches’ in the LLM (Applied Law)

Greg was attracted to lecturing in the College of Law’s LLM program by its practical, applied law focus. Like many lawyers, he recognised how important it is to understand how the law works ‘in the trenches.’

“My enduring memory of the six months following admission was of being perpetually baffled by procedures and forms I knew nothing of, and slightly aggrieved no one wanted the highly refined, and often esoteric answers I’d just spent half a decade learning. The Applied LLM addresses that lacuna, and the chance to be involved with that is great,” said Greg.

He has collaborated with many colleagues to author texts, prepare research papers and presentations. Delivering a masters level course represented a logical next step.

 

Get familiar with tech, but stay true to the law

Greg acknowledged that the law is not what it once was, especially in terms of workflow, client expectations around turnaround times and understanding of legal issues, and fee structures.

“The core capacities of an excellent solicitor, however, have not changed – analytical rigour and pragmatic presentation, integrity and a great work ethic will continue to be commodities the market will compete to recruit,” Greg observed. “Familiarisation with IT (and shortly AI guided) research and automation systems will become increasingly essential, as will the ability to transition subject matter specialisations/practice areas as conventional core areas of practice are subsumed by automation, or increasingly commoditised.

“A willingness to adapt, and regular training or immersion in current practice methodologies will be key success factors moving forward,” said Greg. “Undoubtedly, this presents challenges to conventional practice models, but it opens opportunities also. Ultimately, a career in law is what you’re prepared to make of it, as a demonstrated aptitude in law continues to be an entrée into virtually any commercial sector.”