The Top Female Lawyers in New Zealand |
Elite Women 2023

Lighting the way ahead

NZ Lawyer’s Elite Women of 2023 are the legal profession’s leading lights due to their drive and determination to make a lasting positive impact on the field and within their respective communities.

While this year’s esteemed female lawyers have excelled in diverse areas of law and carved out a unique career path, their dedication to uplifting others and advocating for worthwhile causes inspires colleagues and creates new benchmarks.

The following four Elite Women shared with NZ Lawyer their defining career moments, obstacles and how they make their work have a meaningful impact.


Pioneer of people and technology

A partner at Hudson Gavin Martin playing a critical role within the firm’s practice management, Anchali Anandanayagam has built a global reputation for her work in technology, media and telecommunications. She is a champion of mission-oriented business models and served as vice chairperson of the Asylum Seekers Support Trust board. Diversity of thought is invaluable to her decision-making.

Anchali Anandanayagam, Hudson Gavin Martin
“I think women need to be empowered to make their own decisions about their careers and to communicate that to the people around them, so it is clear what it is they want from their career”
Anchali AnandanayagamHudson Gavin Martin


Trailblazer in cartel law

As a partner and national head of Lane Neave’s Competition and Consumer Protection Law practice, Anna Ryan has earned widespread recognition for trailblazing work in New Zealand’s cartel law. She has secured several groundbreaking achievements, and her efforts have boosted the team’s reputation and influenced the legal landscape. She is passionate about gender diversity and inclusion and committed to her community.

Anna Ryan, Lane Neave
“When I did my master’s in the area of law I now practice, I felt confident I was going to be able to do something special in that space”
Anna RyanLane Neave


Setting the example for the next generation

A partner at Lane Neave who wears the employment relations hat, Fiona McMillan has been instrumental in training the firm’s next generation of lawyers. She takes pride in shepherding the summer clerk and graduate recruitment programs, ensuring the best and brightest find a home at Lane Neave. She provides pro bono employment law work to the Stroke Foundation and emphasises giving back through mentoring and supporting the arts.

Fiona McMillan. Lane Neave
“When I concluded some matters this year, I thought, five to 10 years ago, I would love to work on something like that; I could never have imagined in a million years I’d be instructed on those matters”
Fiona McMillanLane Neave


Catalyst for change

As director and principal lawyer of boutique employment law firm Black Door Law, Caroline Rieger is a change advocate who has paved the way for female lawyers and others to succeed by championing paid parental leave. She has earned a reputation as an employment law expert, and her courtroom work has impacted the field. She has grown her firm to a team of six, and peers recognise her for being at the cutting edge of law with a combination of passion, kindness and humour.

Caroline Rieger, Black Door Law
“Going out on my own and creating my firm has been a huge learning curve, but two and a half years in, it’s nice to look back at where all the little steps have led to”
Caroline RiegerBlack Door Law


2023’s Elite Women, in their own words

NZ Lawyer posed a series of questions to this year’s winners to understand what has enabled them to make their mark and be recognised within the industry.

How have you made a meaningful impact on your profession and society?

Anchali Anandanayagam (AA): “I’m aware of the fact that for young ethnic women, it’s rare to see people in positions of leadership who look like and feel like you. Having someone who has reached a leadership position in the law, having a role model to look up to, is incredibly important, so I feel I’m quite proud to be that role model for certain members of our profession.”

Anna Ryan (AR): “One of the reasons I’m in this business is because I’m passionate about ensuring New Zealand’s economy is operating as well as it possibly can. As chairpersons of the CLPINZ, we reflected on how few female speakers we had for one workshop. That conversation resulted in two-thirds of a future workshop being female speakers. I think that will make a difference for the junior women coming through the ranks.”

Fiona McMillan (FM): “As an employment lawyer, there’s not a day where you don’t get a small sense of that impact, but being the only one in my family who’s university educated and speaking at career days with the two law schools in Auckland, showing female students that it’s achievable is a bit of a thrill for me.”

Caroline Rieger (CR): “I’ve been involved with the New Zealand Law Society, Wellington Branch, Women in Law Committee, and I’ve found that to be hugely beneficial in understanding the issues that face the whole profession. People find a passion there – a project they want to lead. It’s been the most satisfying part of my career. I want to leave the law as a safer profession than when I entered it, ensuring every member of the profession has a positive experience.”


What was the defining moment that propelled you to the next level?

AA: “When my daughter was born, it crystallised my thinking around my career. Children often refocus your priorities, and, for me, it concentrated my focus on being an exceptional lawyer and what I could contribute outside of the law to give back. And I wanted to show my daughter that it can be done.”

AR: “It was my first exposure to the area of law I practice now, competition law, and I absolutely loved it. It was a real light bulb moment for me because I had been enjoying corporate law.”

FM: “A CEO client I’ve worked with has started calling me occasionally to ask more general questions, beyond employment law. It made me realise that I’m in a position now to add more value to clients, and that’s quite a cool feeling that they trust you beyond your employment law knowledge.”

CR: “It’s been a building block process. You never know where something’s going to lead. I’ve been in a partnership with a big firm and made the decision to go out on my own. That’s where I realised where all those small steps have led.”

What are the obstacles facing women in the New Zealand
legal sector, and how did you overcome them?

AA: “I’m constantly thinking about the challenges for women progressing through the law and how we deal with that. I’ve been lucky to have been supported and championed by people throughout my career. The assumptions others make about what women want or don’t want for their careers can be incredibly limiting.”

AR: “Self-doubt is something I’m aware of, but I’ve been fortunate not to have struggled with that, and the environment at Lane Neave has insulated me from what women experience in the wider workplace and legal profession. There’s never been any question here about women being able to achieve whatever they want.”

FM: “I was at a conference earlier this year, and someone said something that stuck with me: when you’re burning down the patriarchy, don’t use other women as kindling. We would be doing more damage than good if we’re scrambling over each other to get to the top.”

CR: “The challenges facing women are facing everyone: wellbeing, the ability to balance a busy practice and workload and fulfilment in other components of their lives. But that’s compounded for women, especially women with young families like me.”



The Top Female Lawyers in New Zealand | Elite Women 2023

  • Alexia Mayer
    James & Wells
  • Allison Arthur-Young
    Board Chair and Partner
    Russell McVeagh
  • Amanda Douglas
    Partner, Employment
    Wynn Williams
  • Anna Buchly
    Bell Gully
  • Anna Thorburn
    Group General Manager Corporate Services
    Oceania Healthcare (Former)
  • Anne McLeod
    Anderson Lloyd
  • Ataga'i Esera
    Vice President, Wellington
    New Zealand Law Society
  • Charlotte von Dadelszen
    Buddle Findlay
  • Elena Kim
    Director, PwC Legal
    PwC New Zealand
  • Elena Szentiványi
    Henry Hughes Law
  • Ellie Wilson
    Special Counsel
    Govett Quilliam
  • Helen Mackay
    Juno Legal
  • Janine Stewart
  • Jo Avenell
    Chief Executive Officer
    Russell McVeagh
  • Joelle Grace
    Partner, PwC Legal
    PwC New Zealand
  • Julie-Anne Kincade
    King’s Counsel and Criminal Barrister
    Augusta Chambers
  • Juliet Jones
    Chief Transformation Officer
    One New Zealand
  • Kate Sheehan
    Kate Sheehan Lawyers
  • Katie Rusbatch
    Chief Executive Officer
    New Zealand Law Society
  • Laura Scampion
    Country Managing Partner
    DLA Piper
  • Lucy De Latour
    Partner, Environment and Planning
    Wynn Williams
  • Melissa Soh-Newstead
    General Counsel and Company Secretary
    Silver Fern Farms
  • Nicola Swan
    Chapman Tripp
  • Nicola Silke
    General Counsel and Company Secretary
  • Nicole Smith
    Mauao Legal Chambers
  • Nina Khouri
    Barrister and Commercial Mediator
  • Paris Bree
    General Counsel
    New Zealand Oil & Gas
  • Phillipa Muir
    Chair and Senior Partner
    Simpson Grierson
  • Prudence Tyler
    Founder and Director
    SHIFT Advisory
  • Rachael Brown
    Bell Gully
  • Rachel Dunne
    Chapman Tripp
  • Renika Siciliano
    Executive Director
    McCaw Lewis
  • Sally Morris
  • Sarah Retter
    General Counsel and Head of Legal – NZ
    Fujitsu New Zealand
  • Sarah Salmond
  • Seshani Bala
    General Counsel
  • Sumudu Thode
    Thode Utting & Co.
  • Tara Grant
    Martelli McKegg
  • Tonia Brugh
    James & Wells
  • Vivian Zhang
    Domain Legal
Applications are now open



In June, NZ Lawyer invited legal professionals from across the country to nominate exceptional female leaders for the third annual Elite Women list. Nominees had to be working in a role related to the legal profession and have influenced the profession in a way that demonstrated a passion for the law.

Nominators were asked to provide details of their nominee’s achievements and initiatives over the past 12 months, including specific examples of their professional accomplishments and contributions to the industry as a whole.

To narrow down the list to the final 49 Elite Women, the NZ Lawyer team reviewed all nominations, examining each individual’s meaningful contribution to the profession.