January/February 2003  Volume 29, Issue 1
January/February 2003
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There's More To The Law Than Law
by Wendy R. London
 

My view is of magnificent Mt. Egmont, which was recently awarded its acting credentials so that it could play the part of Mt. Fuji in The Last Samurai, filming in the lush valleys just 10 miles from my home in New Zealand. What does that have to do with me and the law? Everything.

It all started in my late 20s, when I came back from living in London, went to work for a lawyer in Washington, D.C., and didn't really know what I wanted to do. A wise colleague sat me down and said, "You are a generalist. You need to become a certified generalist." He held out two choices to me: J.D. or M.B.A. I chose J.D.

I had too many other interests to confine myself to "just being a lawyer," but I sensed that the law could provide me with the environment to pursue all my professional interests: information, library work, technology, publishing and even, yes, law.
Moreover, I knew after living overseas that the expatriate life was what I wanted most, and being a certified generalist gave me the wherewithal to have that. My first job after law school-at the not-so-tender age of 31-was one that anyone interested in law, publishing, taxation (the tech stuff came later) and living overseas would covet. I went to work for a tax research and publishing organization in Amsterdam.

"Wicked!" as my step-granddaughter would say. And wicked it was! That year set me up for life-and 20 years on, my self-appointed mentor from back then (another expat Yank still living in Amsterdam) is now my partner in one of my business interests. This even though these days I am about as far from Amsterdam as one could get.
So, what does this have to do with the mountain? Be patient-I'm getting there.

The Best Gets Better Still
After a year of doing the tax thing, I got into some new-fangled area called electronic publishing. Another coup! I was able to combine law, information, publishing and technology. And from there, I became the IT director for a large London law firm, which gave me the best opportunity of all: to create an information technology environment for a law firm that would grow with significant, novel developments on the computing side.

Enter stage right: the man of my dreams, who would sweep me away to an even more adventurous life in a place I'd never heard of. I barely knew where New Zealand was, let alone a town called Hawera.

Now I know New Zealand well. And with a passion that far exceeds any other I have ever known, I have my perfect expatriate life, a wonderful guy and a most enviable work environment. We may be a three-and-a-half hour drive from the closest international airport, and we may have only one major northbound highway and one major southbound highway, but we have broadband. (I know-I'm the person who led the implementation project that gives our province the most pervasive regional coverage in New Zealand.) We also have a budding e-commerce industry, wonderful people who enjoy the same things I do, and opportunities for me to contribute to the community in ways I never dreamed of (from working with central government on IT policy and regional economic development to making decisions about our town's Christmas parade). Best of all, I have the opportunity to deploy all my skills and experience in measurable ways.

All because I became a certified generalist and took some risks along the way, rather than succumbing to the routines that we were groomed to follow in law school.

So, about the mountain. Wendy and Terry live happily ever after in the shadows of Mt. Fuji's clone-and if you go to see The Last Samurai, you will understand why big, structured law firms in far-off places, like London and New York, are not for me.

Wendy R. London ( wlondon@compuserve.com), a technology lawyer and legal IT consultant, is Director of Client Management International Ltd. (CMI Legal) and London Consulting Ltd., in Hawera, New Zealand. She is also Director of Legal Affairs for the Amsterdam-based Customer Marketing Institute.