Speaking up for new lawyers in the region
Gisborne lawyer Bree Munro has been appointed to the New Zealand Law Society's National New Lawyers Group. “I want to be able to represent other junior lawyers who are doing some really important work in the region,” Bree says. She shared a glimpse of her professional journey and future plans with Gisborne Herald reporter Akula Sharma.
Sound advice from her mother set Bree Munro on the road of service to others.
“When I was young I wanted to be a marine biologist because I wanted to save the animals. My mother said I wouldn't want to do that on a protest boat, but I could do it in the court room which is how people fight for what they believe in,” Bree said.
Originally from Balclutha in South Otago, Bree completed her Bachelor of Arts-Bachelor of Laws (BA LLB) degree at the University of Otago.
“Later on, my interest switched from environmental law to criminal law. A reason for that would be my interest in people and binge watching crime television shows.”
Bree said to complete the professional legal studies course, she moved to Wellington.
“I picked up a job at the New Zealand Law Society's (NZLS) national office. There I was only doing legal administration work.
“I was just waiting for the right opportunity. When it got to the end of the year, I started applying for law jobs and Woodward Chrisp came up, and they offered me a job.
“I was offered another opportunity in Dunedin. I weighed the two up, whether I wanted to go to Dunedin where I am from, or try something new. I chose something new.
“Coming to Gisborne was definitely the right decision.”
Bree is a solicitor in the litigation team at Woodward Chrisp law firm. She represents clients in areas like criminal legal aid, civil and commercial litigation, ACC law and employment law.
“It is the first place where I have been a practising lawyer. There's a lot of legal aid work here compared to other places.
“People here are really friendly, which I love. Everyone is quick to lend a hand. There is a lot of work around, not just in criminal, but also in other areas I cover. There's always something on the go.”
Bree said she was unsure whether her application for NZLS National New Lawyers Group would be successful because there were a lot of applicants.
“Honestly, I forgot about it. Then, I received an email a couple of weeks ago saying that I was successful. It was exciting.
“They asked me two questions. The first was about me and my background and the second was why I thought I would be good for the group. They also checked my CV.”
Bree said Gisborne lawyers faced their own challenges in terms of legal aid.
“Because so much of our work is legal aid we are affected a lot. The legal aid rates for one thing haven't increased since 2008.
“For lawyers on the ground here, legal aid is crucial because we represent the most vulnerable communities. We want to be able to give them the time they deserve.
“With minimal allocated funding, it becomes challenging. We end up doing a lot of pro bono work for things which aren't covered by the fixed fee rates.
“It is a problem which I see a lot of. Not just for me, but for other lawyers who do similar work. It's frustrating.
“For senior practitioners, they have a bit more control. They might diversify their practice or choose to take on more work. But when you are in the junior role you have a limited capacity.
“It can also be overwhelming if you are under pressure to take on more work. It can be tricky for young lawyers to catch a breath and learn from what they are doing.
“When they are constantly slammed by work I guess just try to keep the firm or practice going, depending on what situation they are in.”
Bree said she would push these issues to the forefront as a member of the new group.
“I want to be able to push those issues forward. I want to raise awareness about the issues which junior lawyers working in rural settings face. Our region, unlike Auckland, Wellington or Christchurch, is not a metropolis.
“Junior lawyers here need to feel supported in the same way lawyers in the big cities are, in terms of access to more resources and funding.
“We need speakers coming to talk to us and ongoing education opportunities as they do in Auckland. Many young lawyers are keen to learn in that manner rather than always having to use Zoom.”
Bree said to get these issues addressed nationally, she wanted the new lawyers in Gisborne to come together collectively, “so we can really push our voices to the forefront for Gisborne”.
She has no plans to go back to Balclutha. She said she loved the community support she had received in Gisborne and also the region's pleasant weather.
“The people here are lovely especially the legal community — court staff, the judges, prosecutors and other lawyers. They make my job a lot easier.
“I get a laugh every day which I think is very important especially when you're dealing with not-so-nice things sometimes. I am very thankful for them.
“Not just my own practice, but the whole Gisborne legal community have supported me to become the best lawyer that I can be.”
Bree said her parents were really proud of the fact that she was “getting out there and using my knowledge to help other people”.
“My mother is my biggest inspiration. She's a nurse, and likes to be of service to others.”