Holland Beckett partner: Women in law don’t have to choose between career and family

Leesa Speed is determined to help slow the attrition of senior female lawyers by her example

Holland Beckett partner: Women in law don’t have to choose between career and family
Leesa Speed

Leesa Speed’s career trajectory is proof that women in law don’t have to choose between career advancement and family.

The family law specialist made partner at Holland Beckett last month – a role she steps into as a woman with a family. The move has taken “courage and confidence,” but a supportive law firm culture has gone a long way towards Speed being determined to help stem the attrition of senior female lawyers who have the perception that career and family time can’t be balanced.

In this interview, Speed talks lawyer wellbeing and workplace culture, Holland Beckett’s new parental leave policy, developing legal talent within the firm’s family law division, and a bucket list item inspired by American romcoms.

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What is going on at the firm? Are there any new programs and initiatives that you’re particularly interested in?

Holland Beckett continues to strive to be the employer of choice in the Bay. To this end we have a real focus on attracting and retaining talented staff. We have recently refined our summer clerk and graduate lawyer recruitment programme to ensure law students know about the opportunities for great quality legal careers in the Bay of Plenty.

Another exciting initiative is our new parental leave policy which we announced in December 2021. Primary carers are entitled to receive their first 18 weeks of government assistance topped up to their full pay while partners of the primary carer are eligible to receive four weeks of paid leave. Our workplace survey identified this was an area that we could improve. We consulted with a focus group made up of staff who already have children, and also staff who might be considering starting a family in the future.

When we announced the policy, it was clear that we had exceeded expectations. I am very proud of the firm’s commitment to working parents.

What tech-related initiatives adopted by the firm, if any, are you most excited about?

The recent pandemic-related closures have really forced us all to be both inventive and flexible with the way we work. In the legal space, this has called for appearances at hearings remotely on many occasions. Holland Beckett has ensured big screen video-conferencing facilities have been put in place to enable long (a week or more) hearings to be conducted from our offices by way of video-conferencing facilities. This has made “business as usual” far more practical.

What has been your proudest accomplishment in the last year or so? What’s the biggest lesson you learned and what advice can you give fellow lawyers about it?

Stepping up into a leadership role as a woman with a family has been a mind shift for me and taken courage and confidence. With the support of the partners at Holland Beckett and my family, I am proud to have thrown my hat in the ring and jumped in boots and all.

I am determined to do my part to slow the attrition of talented senior female lawyers who believe they have to choose between their careers and their family. Holland Beckett has a number of part-time senior lawyers amongst our 60 lawyers and nearly 140 total staff. Flexible work arrangements allow all staff to work around their family commitments. Staff have mobile phones, tech equipment and related services to ensure an ease of working between office and home environments.

What should the profession focus more on?

People – how do we get good ones and how do we keep them? Lawyers are notoriously overworked and stressed with some of the highest rates of suicide of all the professions. We really need to focus on wellbeing and balance.

Holland Beckett has a wellness committee for that very purpose and has some great initiatives in place to support the wellness of our staff but whilst yoga at lunchtimes is awesome, what really matters is culture. Every legal practice needs to focus on a supportive and collaborative culture that puts its people first. I believe that if people feel valued at work, that their work matters and is contributing to the “bigger picture,” that they as individuals are more than the fees they generate, then a healthy culture and a happy and “well” workforce will result.

What are the challenges you expect in your practice, and in the business of law in general, going forward? What challenges are particularly pressing in the country’s legal industry?

Challenges for my practice in family law and the business of law in general include external issues like the impacts of COVID-19 on the way we work, technology advances and keeping abreast of those, pricing pressures with increased client demands and the growth in outsourcing of legal services.

Internally, the legal profession faces the challenge of diversity and inclusion and recruiting, and retaining talent as we head into what is being touted as “the great resignation.” In the family law space, practitioners are experiencing heightened stress levels, no doubt as a direct result of an increased workload thanks to the impact of COVID-19 on relationships. Systemic delays in the Family Court mean hearings can take 12 months or more to be obtained, and legal aid financial thresholds that are not keeping with the times mean that access to justice for many New Zealanders is simply out of reach.

What are you looking forward to the most in the coming year?

Stepping into and embracing my new role as family team partner, and helping to lead the firm forward into the future and grow great lawyers. My aim is to continue to build the capacity within our family law team at Holland Beckett to solidify our position as the largest and most prestigious expert family law team in the area. We currently have nine specialist family lawyers from graduate to partner level.

If you were given an opportunity to travel anywhere in the world right now, where would it be and why?

It’s so exciting to see the world opening up again and to even be able to consider dusting the passport off. I have always wanted to spend a white Christmas and New Year’s Eve in New York – it’s definitely bucket list for me thanks to American romcoms, I suspect!

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