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Contributing one’s talent and energy to the legal profession while paving an equitable path for future generations is not easy. However, each of the 36 winners on NZ Lawyer’s Elite Women list has proven she can rise to the challenge.
Recognising the legal profession’s women leaders in this special report is part of NZ Lawyer’s goal to create a platform to highlight the views and experiences of these accomplished women.
These awards celebrate the winners’ innovative thinking for their workplaces and communities. For instance, one initiative aims to rethink the balance between work and parental life.
Some of the Elite Women have formed firms taking a client-first and family-friendly approach – an idea that aims to be much more progressive than the traditional law office.
All these awardees have consistently demonstrated leadership and challenged conventional beliefs and behaviours in their profession. Many standouts provide legal services to industries – such as construction, engineering, aviation, and finance – historically overrepresented by men. The professional excellence of these women has propelled them to the top of their field, where they have taken leadership roles and contributed immeasurably to global institutions such as the International Court of Arbitration. Throughout 2021, these women have significantly influenced their profession and society.
The Elite Women’s achievements include devising new ways of working to overcome the traditional limitations of practising law. Winners created more flexible workplaces to meet the demands of working families and diverse communities.
These leading women have a professional range beyond their day-to-day work, whether by championing diversity at the senior executive level or consulting for global organisations.
Dentons Kensington Swan partner Linda Clark challenged her community to improve diversity and inclusion through the launch of cultural and social responsibility initiatives both within her workplace and society.
A leading media and defamation lawyer, Clark has provided legal and strategic advice to cases that have generated considerable public interest.
“Linda is unequivocally a woman of influence in the legal profession and broader across New Zealand,” a spokesperson for her firm says.
“Through her work on high-profile cases, Linda contributes to breaking the status quo on how women are perceived in public. Her efforts pave the way for many other women to succeed in the profession.”
For some of the Elite Women, motivation comes from the experience of being the minority gender in their field. Courtney Dick, senior legal counsel at Rocket Lab, cites such an experience.
“I work in a STEM industry where almost 90% of my colleagues are male,” she says.
“I have stepped up and become my own voice in a very male-dominated company and industry.”
Dick was the sole legal support in a multimillion-dollar construction project to combine Rocket Lab’s two engine test facilities into one large engine propulsion test complex. This project entailed complex legal requirements involving multiple parties that conducted site upgrades on roads, and water and power utilities.
“I negotiated and drafted a large volume of high-value agreements including civil works, large structures and supporting infrastructure in addition to a large volume of contractor and supplier agreements,” she says.
“Rocket Lab has now officially hit the NASDAQ – this was an awesome feat for our company and a great challenge for me.”
For Mary-Elizabeth Tuck, providing strategic advice and sharing knowledge were part of her responsibilities as general counsel and general manager of corporate services at Auckland International Airport.
“During a period of constant adjustment, Mary-Liz provided strategic advice and support for the business in a variety of areas to ensure it remained resilient and well-positioned for recovery as demand for international travel returned,” a spokesperson says.
“Mary-Liz carried significant responsibility for the Airport’s stabilisation and recovery strategy across her wide portfolio of responsibilities.”
With the many changes forced upon the airport’s operations, Tuck adapted to the requirements and played a critical role in strengthening the business. The Airport’s CEO, Adrian Littlewood, complimented Tuck’s “incredible work ethic” and professionalism.
“[She] has built a highly capable professional services team that has earned the trust and support of our business and partners,” he says.
New Zealand’s women lawyers have also excelled on the global stage.
In July 2021, the International Court of Arbitration, the world’s leading arbitration institution, elected Bankside Chambers arbitrator and barrister Anna Kirk as its New Zealand Member. She is the first woman to be appointed to this role.
One of only a handful of female commercial arbitrators in New Zealand, Kirk is also sought-after as an international arbitrator and works to promote diversity in the field.
“Anna spends a significant amount of unpaid time promoting arbitration in New Zealand,” says a spokesperson for her firm.
Suzie Sneddon, director and founder of Base Law, has created a new legal model where female senior solicitors could reach their full potential professionally and personally. This model involves a flat consultancy structure where senior lawyers can work consistently with their personal lives, enabling those who may otherwise have left the profession to continue their careers.
“Through Suzie’s own life journey and experiences, she not only saw the need for a different legal model within the profession but went about creating it,” a spokesperson says.
“She is assisting other senior solicitors with diverse personal and lifestyle challenges to do the same, by providing Base Law as a springboard to their new, flexible legal career. Suzie is contributing to diversity and gender equality in the profession by giving senior lawyers an opportunity to work in a different way.”
By founding Juno Legal, Helen M Mackay has transformed what it means to practise law. The former president of the In-house Lawyers’ Association of New Zealand and global co-chair of the In-house Counsel Worldwide establishment body, Mackay established Juno Legal in 2017 as a democratic business-to-business firm to enable professional lawyers to perform flexible work.
The firm has since grown to 24 lawyers, working with many of New Zealand’s largest companies and public sector entities including Fonterra, The Warehouse, Coca-Cola, NZ Super Fund, Foodstuffs, Kainga Ora, 2 Degrees, TSB Bank, Serko and Sharesies.
“Helen puts people at the centre of everything she does,” says a spokesperson for Juno Legal.
“Each Juno lawyer determines their own hours of work in consultation with clients to have full control of their careers. Juno pays in the upper quartile of the market and has a rule prohibiting unpaid overtime.”
Juno donates a percentage of its profits to a charity of each lawyer’s choice to encourage community giving.
As these Elite Women have shown, confidence and cooperation go a long way towards achieving the goals of a sector that has faced significant obstacles. Due to the determination and insights of these women lawyers, many others know that as far as their professional and personal development is concerned, the possibilities are endless.
In September, NZ Lawyer invited legal professionals from across the country to nominate exceptional female leaders for the inaugural Elite Women list. Nominees had to be working in a role that related to, interacted with, or in some way influenced the profession. They should have also demonstrated an evident passion for the law.
NZ Lawyer asked nominators to describe to describe the nominee’s standout professional achievements over the past 12 months, along with her contributions towards diversity and inclusion and how she has given back through volunteer roles and charity work. Recommendations from managers and senior industry professionals were also considered.
The NZ Lawyer team reviewed all nominations and examined each individual’s meaningful workplace and social contributions to narrow down the list to the final 36 Elite Women.