Legal eagle spreads his wings – Oct 2017

Written by Matthew Gale, recipient of the 2015 FairWay Resolution Anne Scragg Scholarship

Four and a half years after finishing up at the University of Otago and taking my first steps in my still young legal career, I resigned from my role with dispute resolution specialists Wilson Harle. Having decided I wanted to do more study, there was never really going to be an opportune moment to leave a job where enjoyed what I did and did quality work with quality people. There would always be one reason or another to stay at least a little bit longer. There were also, however, some key drivers to my desire to pursue further study and for doing so in the United States, which ultimately compelled me to leave.

Further study in general offered the opportunity to broaden and deepen my legal experience, and to have time to pause and think critically about legal issues. Doing so in the United States was attractive because of the contrasts with my previous experiences, which the legal framework, culture and teaching style offered. On top of all that, it is not that easy for New Zealanders to live in the United States and studying there provided the perfect excuse.

To be perfectly candid, I did not know a lot about Philadelphia before I arrived there in July 2015. I had, of course, done due diligence on the University of Pennsylvania Law School where I had chosen, from a handful of schools I had been accepted to, to undertake a one year Master of Laws program. However, apart from that, my Philadelphia knowledge was limited to bits and pieces round the fringes – its proximity to New York, its central role in the Rocky films, the names of its professional sporting teams, and the fact that it had played some sort of role in the founding of the country. Consequently, it was a bit of a leap into the unknown to pick somewhere to live (near the Schuylkill River, in the Rittenhouse area between downtown and Penn), settle into classes and start looking around the city.

Academically, my experience was outstanding. I was exposed to fantastic courses, professors and to different ways of legal thinking from around the world – the LLM class being made up of students at a range of different stages of their legal careers from 35 different countries. Alongside courses aimed at building on my dispute resolution experience and my interest in investigating ADR techniques more generally, I had the opportunity to take a range of papers aimed at broadening my legal experience – American and European constitutional law, the interaction of law and disasters, and the law of the presidency – a particularly interesting course to be taking in the first half of 2016.

The experiences those courses offered were like nothing I had ever contemplated while studying law in New Zealand. My disaster law course involved a 10-day field trip to Japan to undertake a case study of the Japanese experience following the Fukushima nuclear disaster. A commercial litigation strategy course I took was taught, sometimes in chambers, by a sitting Federal Court Judge. A mediation clinic which I enrolled in involved learning and practicing the skills of mediation before putting those skills to use mediating real disputes in a range of fora in courts and tribunals across Philadelphia.

In addition to broadening my legal experience, I was, as I had hoped, able to pause and think critically about legal issues. I wrote extensively on legal issues and questions which interested me – the use of ADR in commercial contexts, the prospect of appellate ADR being used in New Zealand and re-imagining the use of ADR in post-earthquake Christchurch – and about other issues which I had not encountered before: the enforcement of arbitration awards annulled at the seat and the constitutional limits of parliamentary sovereignty in the United Kingdom.

The inevitable consequence of choosing to study in the States was of course getting to live in the United States. From our initial days, cautiously deciding where to live and beginning to explore the city, my then fiancée (now wife) and I fell in love with Philadelphia. We learned about its (and its favourite son Benjamin Franklin’s) central and crucial role in the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the creation of the US Constitution. We learned about its vibrant food and arts culture and visited its many many wonderful art galleries. We learned about its sports fanaticism and the accompanying annual anguish associated with being a Philadelphia sports fan. In addition, I continued to play, as I had in New Zealand, club rugby, which ensured that I met Philadelphians outside of the central city and liberal university bubble, which we could have easily been confined to.

We also travelled (as much as poor students could afford) around the vast country and met Americans of all shapes and sizes. Those opportunities emphasised to me my own previous naivety in thinking of U.S. as a country of homogeneous states and people. From its geography and culture, to its culture and personality, the country varies hugely and it was fantastic to be able to sample some of that huge variety in the travel we did - from Utah and Arizona in the west to Maine in the north and Louisiana and Georgia in the south. In addition, we spent four months living and working in New York after graduation in May 2016. I had the opportunity there to work for a not for profit research and policy organisation called the Vera Institute for Justice, which works in 40 states to build a justice system that ensures fairness, promotes safety and strengthens communities. Its work focuses on a number of areas, not least of which are immigration and criminal justice reform and, having had an interest in criminal justice policy while studying and working in New Zealand, my time working at Vera was hugely interesting and inspiring.

None of this would have occurred without the assistance of FairWay and I am immensely grateful for the honour of being the inaugural Anne Scragg Scholar and everything that FairWay’s support has enabled me to do.

Background

Matthew Gale is originally from Auckland. He was the inaugural recipient of FairWay’s Anne Scragg Scholarship and his entry paper “Mediation and the Civil Justice Gap” explored the interplay between courts, alternative dispute resolution (ADR) and the challenges associated with a surging tide of people looking for justice. 

In October 2017, Matthew wrote this follow up piece outlining his experiences studying a Master of Laws program at the University of Pennsylvania Law School following his scholarship.

Matthew is now working within the legal profession in London.

FairWay’s Anne Scragg Scholarship

FairWay Resolution Limited is an organisation centered around leading the prevention and resolution of disputes. As part of our commitment to leading best practice dispute resolution, we award an annual scholarship package for anyone working in or studying dispute resolution in New Zealand. 

For more information on the scholarship, please visit www.fairwayresolution.com