Honest communication is key to family and work life balance for Flacks & Wong senior associate

Katie Green says that the legal profession needs to can the idea that lawyers need to work long hours in an office to be effective

Honest communication is key to family and work life balance for Flacks & Wong senior associate
Katie Green

Katie Green never entertained being anything other than a lawyer. Thanks to her grandfather’s strong endorsement and the example set by a friend of the family, she grew up seeing the profession as “interesting and respectable,” she said.

She went into corporate law and to London, where she worked “brutal” hours. But on becoming a mother, Green had to split her focus between her family and her work, which left her with feelings of guilt and a sense of failure. However, she said she has since learned that “open communication is key to finding a happy(ish) balance between work and family life.”

In this interview, Green talks playing a key part in the growth of Flacks & Wong after joining the firm as a senior associate last year, the value of good friends and mentors and working smarter to draw young prospective lawyers into the profession. 

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What made you choose a career in law?

To be honest, I don’t remember ever wanting to be anything other than a lawyer. From a really young age, my granddad spent a lot of time talking to me about the world, and was convinced that I was savvy enough to be the first lawyer in the family. I really had no idea what it meant to be a lawyer but he made the profession sound so interesting and respectable—an image that was reinforced by a close friend of the family who was a former chair of the Waitangi Tribunal. He was a force and such a kind, outgoing person with such incredibly interesting work stories that I couldn’t help but be inspired to join the profession.

In hindsight, I’m sure my granddad thought I would be a litigator, but I’m definitely better suited to the corporate world.

What do you love most about your job?

The clients—I have met some awesome people so far in my career, and I really enjoy getting to know their businesses, the people who work within them and the challenges that they face on a day-to-day basis.

What is going on at the firm?

Flacks & Wong is a relatively young firm, but has had really great corporate/capital markets work and a lot of recognition, including winning Boutique Law Firm of the Year at the 2019 New Zealand Law Awards. So I am excited to play a key role in the continued growth of the firm and to help build on the strong platform that [directors] David and Daniel have created.

What’s the biggest lesson you learned in the past year and what advice can you give fellow lawyers about it?

I returned to New Zealand from London at the end of 2018 with a 10-month-old in tow and I have just had my second child, who is now six months old. Prior to having children, I worked long hours on big transactions and while the hours were often brutal, I loved the hard work and sense of achievement when a deal was completed and the clients were happy. Having my first child in London without any family support (other than my very understanding husband) meant I could no longer do the hours that were expected of me and I had to split my focus in new ways. As a result, and like many new parents, I had a constant sense of guilt that I wasn’t giving my all to either my job or my family, and with that came a sense of failure.

I was fortunate in London to have some great friends and mentors who had also returned to work after parental leave and they encouraged me to have honest and frank conversations with my partners about what was and was not possible for me, particularly in the early days. Now being back in New Zealand, I have continued to have those honest capacity conversations with my bosses and clients where necessary and I’ve quickly discovered that clients are (for the most part) far more understanding of our competing demands than we think they will be. Basically, open communication is key to finding a happy(ish) balance between work and family life. That, and having very understanding bosses!

What should the profession and law firms focus more on?

Adapting to new, more flexible ways of working and finding more balance. To ensure we continue to encourage smart, young lawyers to join and, more importantly, to stay in the profession, we need to work smarter, engage with our clients and colleagues in new and more flexible ways and get rid of the expectation that long hours stuck in an office (to the detriment of our family and social lives) is what is required to do the job well. The technology to help us do this has existed for a while; we just need to take advantage of it. Perhaps this will be one of the upsides of the changes forced upon us by the COVID-19 lockdown.

What are the challenges you expect in your practice, and in the business of law in general, going forward?

As I am sure is true for many businesses across New Zealand, the immediate challenges for our practice stem from COVID-19, particularly connecting with clients (old and new) and understanding their needs and how we can assist them in the short- to medium-term as the global economy starts moving again.

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

After five months of maternity leave and two months of COVID-19 lockdown, I’m really looking forward to getting back to work and catching up with people.

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