WRMK Lawyers associate: 'Parental leave isn't time off – it's more like a secondment'

Courtney Clarke encourages parents to acknowledge the skills learned from raising children

WRMK Lawyers associate: 'Parental leave isn't time off – it's more like a secondment'
Courtney Clarke

Courtney Clarke works two jobs – lawyer and mother. The recently minted WRMK Lawyers associate, who returned this year from parental leave to a promotion, sees being on parental leave not as a vacation, but as something akin to a secondment that gave her transferable skills.

Clarke views her new skillset as a valuable asset, and urges her fellow parents to recognise the skills they pick up while parenting. The private client and trusts expert is also passionate about being able to mentor the graduates coming into the WRMK Lawyers’ Warkworth office.

In this interview, Clarke talks about what it’s like working in a small community, the pitfalls of the legal profession’s “work hard, play hard” culture, and why she’d want to defend toddlers in court.

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What made you choose a career in law, and what's your favourite part of the job?

I was exposed to the legal profession early on, often spending afternoons and school holidays at my dad’s legal practice. The fact I wasn’t put off by this experience and always had a keen interest in dealing with people and problem solving made a career in law seem the natural choice.

I find the holistic nature of private client and trust work really satisfying. I think it’s important to get to know the person behind the instructions and what their motivations are, in order to provide the best possible advice. Especially living and working in a small community like Warkworth, it’s a real privilege to be able to get to know people in the community, take on the role of their trusted advisor, help them to achieve their personal and business goals and then see the effects of that in action in the community.

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

We are growing! The firm has for a few years now been running a really successful graduate program, and I am excited to be involved with the mentoring of the graduates in our Warkworth office.

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

Technology was actually something that drew me to the firm initially. I admire the firm’s proactive rather than reactive approach to adopting new technology. From being the first firm in NZ to transition to a digital office to quickly adapting to remote work during the Covid pandemic then a hybrid office post-pandemic. As an employee it really makes a difference to your overall sense of well-being when you feel as though your employer is able to be agile and adapt quickly in an environment that is constantly changing.

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

My proudest achievement this year is returning from parental leave to my role but now in a dual role as a working mother where, if you add up the hours you spend parenting in a day and the hours you spend working, you are essentially doing two work days in one.

My advice to fellow lawyers returning to work after starting a family is to remember that parental leave isn’t time off, it’s more like a secondment gaining transferable skills which are a valuable asset.  Acknowledge the new skills you have gained and don’t be afraid to ask your employer to consider a flexible working arrangement that works for you and your family. 

What should the profession focus more on?

Normalising a flexible working culture – the legal profession is renowned for its inflexibility, which naturally means many people are excluded from starting and continuing in the profession, especially women. Workplaces around the world are increasingly focusing on creating flexible work environments for their people and it would be great to see a bigger focus on this in the legal profession.

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?

Definitely workplace expectations and culture – the legal profession has long had a “work hard, play hard” culture. The work hard aspect has led to issues with burnout – many young lawyers burning out in their first few years in the profession and leaving it for good. It’s also contributed to a lack of gender equality. Many women have left the profession in the early stages of their career as the expected working hours are not family friendly and don’t offer the work/life balance people value.

The “play hard” culture has also resulted in significant issues with sexual violence, bullying and harassment. Both of these need to change – and I think, thankfully, slowly are changing in the wider profession.

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

We have a really great team of people in our Warkworth office and the wider firm and I’m excited to be working with them and continuing to help our grow our presence in the North.

If you had to defend a fictional antagonist/villain in court, who would you pick, and why?

Angelica Pickles from the 90’s children’s show Rugrats – because no one can win an argument against a toddler.

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