Anjori Mitra is currently studying towards an LLM at Columbia University and prior, worked as a junior barrister in New Zealand for four years. She spoke to Survive Law NZ about why she chose to practice law, what she would tell her first year self and what it is like living in New York (hint: lots of museums, theatre and eating out!).
1. Tell us a bit about yourself
I graduated from the University of Auckland in 2014 with BA (majoring in English and History) and LLB(Hons) degrees. After that, I worked as a junior barrister to two barristers at Bankside Chambers in Auckland for four years. In that role, I worked on an extremely diverse range of civil litigation, including commercial disputes, employment litigation and professional disciplinary matters. In August last year, I moved to New York City to study for an LLM at Columbia University. I’m currently in the final months of my LLM study and intending to go back into litigation practice once I finish, either in New Zealand or overseas.
2. Why did you choose to study law?
Like many law students, I was good at English and History at school. I wasn’t quite sure exactly what I wanted to do when I left school – whether I wanted to pursue English as an academic discipline, which would mean eventually doing a PhD and going into research and teaching, or whether I wanted to do something more practical with the writing and critical thinking skills I had. While I think there are a lot of options for practical, technical careers if you’re good at STEM subjects, law is one of the few really defined career paths you can follow if you are good at arts subjects and want an alternative to academia.
I remember going to a tertiary education and careers fair when I was in my penultimate year of high school, discovering I could study arts and law degrees at the same time at the University of Auckland, and deciding then that I would try out law with the safety net of still doing subjects I knew I enjoyed and excelled in. So I kind of fell into studying law without any concrete idea of what I wanted to do with my law degree.
3. Why did you choose to practice law and why did you choose the field that you’re in?
I went through University pretty unsure whether I wanted to practice law, but I did know that if I did decide to practice, the only thing I wanted to do was litigation and dispute resolution. To me, this is the field of law that is most related to actual law – you read cases and do research all the time, get to observe (and, if you’re lucky, deliver) argument in court and be on the front lines of the development of the law. I’ve deliberately decided not to specialise in one specific area of law for now, because I think specialising too much can give you tunnel vision and many civil disputes actually engage a lot of different areas of the law.
For a while I was very certain I wanted to work in criminal prosecution, but ended up getting a job doing a broad range of civil and commercial litigation, which I absolutely loved and will continue doing once I finish my LLM. I hadn’t quite realized, as a law student, just how many areas of the law are civil, and not criminal, in nature. For example, the matters I worked on included not just corporate and contractual disputes, but also matters of private international law, bullying in the workplace and historical sexual abuse claims. I also had the assumption (common amongst law students) that the only way to really help people is to work in criminal or human rights law, but in reality in any type of litigation you have the opportunity to help people with something that really matters to them.
4. If you could go back in time, what would you tell your first year self?
To be more confident in getting involved in extra-curricular activities. For example, even though I’ve always been a confident public speaker, I didn’t do as much mooting and debating at law school as I would have liked. I found I enjoyed law school a lot more once I got more involved in student groups, and this had an effect on how well I did academically too.
I would also worry less about how smart everyone else around me seemed. My first year of law school was incredibly competitive, because, on the basis of GPA, only a fraction of the class would be selected to advance to the second year of the law degree. I spent a lot of time convinced everyone else was doing better than me. It was a surprise when I got into second year and many of the students who seemed the most confident in class didn’t make it.
5. What has been the highlight of your career thus far?
Its hard to pinpoint just one – overall, I’m really pleased with the amount that I have learned since I started working and having had so many opportunities to appear in court. A highlight definitely was getting to junior on a hearing in the Court of Appeal shortly after I was admitted. Another highlight was getting the opportunity to study for the LLM at Columbia – something I don’t think I would’ve gotten without the amount of experience I got from my previous job, because many U.S. law schools place a premium on your work experience and employer references.
6. What are your hobbies and Interests outside the law?
I love going to the theatre, movies (Academy Cinemas in Auckland is one of my favourite places), museums and eating out – and currently enjoying procrastinating from my LLM studies by doing all of these things in New York. I also enjoy going to thrift store and flea markets to hunt for bargains – I’ve found some amazing stuff for my future house, and New York thrift stores are filled with designer clothes. And of course, I love to write.
8. If you were not a lawyer, what would you be?
A journalist and/or author. The nice thing about writing is that it is something you can try to do alongside a legal career. At least in the U.S., lots of prominent lawyers and legal academics regularly write op-eds for major publications, and lawyers have a long history of becoming successful authors.
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