AJ Lodge on achieving justice and balancing motherhood with a busy practice in COVID-19
As a psychology graduate, Ashley-Jayne (AJ) Lodge found herself fascinated by the “people and problems” aspect of employment law. For her, a memorable case goes beyond just winning – it’s about bettering a client’s circumstances and achieving justice for them.
With activity in the employment law scene ramping up due to COVID-19, Lodge, who returned from parental leave in the thick of the pandemic, had to adjust to raising her new baby while juggling an “exceptionally busy” practice. Nonetheless, she has risen to the occasion and has welcomed 2021 with a bang by joining Anderson Lloyd as the new co-head of the firm’s national employment law group this month.
In this interview, Lodge talks about the influx of Gen Z and millennials in the legal industry, the need for continued progress in the fight for gender equality and diving into Anderson Lloyd’s Māori-centred, staff empowering and sustainability initiatives.
What made you choose a career in law, and what's your favourite part of the job?
There were two aspects of employment law that drew me to it – people and problems.
I have always been fascinated by people – what motivates us, human behaviour, and psychology; I have a bachelor of science in psychology. Employment law is the interface of the legal rules of a workplace with the people in the workplace. It’s an area which is highly people focussed. There are often tensions between the drivers of the organisation and the drivers of its workforce, between individuals within an organisation, and sometimes between the values and/or ambitions of an organisation and the legal rules within which it must operate.
I've also always loved solving problems, and being an employment lawyer gives me the opportunity to help people through complex or difficult times by being able to take an objective view and find a solution. Being naturally determined and always up for a well-reasoned debate also drew me to the litigation part of an employment practice!
What is the most memorable case you've taken on/been involved in?
I was involved in a full bench Employment Court case called Xtreme Dining t/a Think Steel v Dewar  NZEmpC 136, which set a precedent in relation to reduction in remedies for contributory conduct. This was legally an interesting case, which involved looking to other jurisdictions for guidance, but was also really rewarding because my employee client had just been so badly treated by his employer. It was fantastic to be able to achieve justice for him.
What is going on at the firm? Are there any new programs and initiatives that you’re particularly interested in?
Anderson Lloyd is committed to investing in our people, technology and sustainability, and there are some really exciting initiatives in each of these areas.
We have partnered with NAIA and Taimana Training who run Cultural Intelligence and Te Reo classes respectively across all of our offices. We are doing this as part of our commitment as a firm to develop a deeper understanding and awareness of te ao Māori and how to engage appropriately in business and other settings. We're excited to explore the richness of the Māori culture and foster more effective and respectful communication with iwi, as a result of this improved understanding. We are also hoping these classes will enable our people to gain confidence in their everyday use of te reo and obtain insights into how Māori culture shapes thinking and behaviours, creating a higher level of appreciation for indigenous languages and cultural diversity.
We regularly have speakers come in (or these days, Zoom in) to empower of staff. We recently had clinical psychologist Jacqui Maguire speak to our staff on being 'out of the sprint and into the endurance event' with regards to our mental health response to the disruptions bought on by COVID-19. She also talked to understanding the psychological impact of crisis over time and learning practical strategies to optimise our wellbeing.
Anderson Lloyd has long invested in cutting-edge technology to benefit our people and clients of the firm alike. The long-term commitment Anderson Lloyd has in investing in technology was evident in the firm's seamless transition to working remotely over last year's lockdown.
Early last year, Anderson Lloyd achieved its Toitū carbonzero accreditation, and was one of New Zealand's first law firms to do so. We continually task ourselves with being leaders within the legal industry in the sustainability space not only from an environmental point of view but socially (e.g., Living Wage Employers) and economically (finding more innovative ways to service our clients and expanding into growth areas, e.g., climate change law). The firm’s commitment to sustainability was one of the aspects which drew me to the role and it’s great to see our continued progress here.
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?
I was on parental leave from March-June 2020, so coming back into an employment practice in the midst of the global pandemic was a challenge. We were exceptionally busy, as were all employment lawyers, in addition to our whole way of working being turned on its head. On top of that I had a four-month-old baby. I am really proud of my team and our ability to continue to provide excellent service and much appreciated guidance to our clients through what was a difficult time for all.
What are some ways in which the legal profession has improved in terms of progressing gender equality?
We still have a way to go to achieve gender equality in leadership roles across the profession, and that continues to be a challenge for women, particularly those who want to have a family and a career. Some firms have taken some great steps in the right direction, for example by making flexibility the norm, but there is lots to still do. In addition, while there has been progress since the #MeToo movement surfaced several years ago, there is still change required within the culture of the profession, with a continued focus needed on pay equity, gender equality, and diversity. Anderson Lloyd provide great flexible working options, for all of our team, not just working parents.
What is your outlook for the legal industry this year?
Looking outwards, the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to create a steady stream of work for many lawyers, as will the current booming property market. Looking inwards, I think the industry is changing due to the number of millennials and Gen Z coming into the workforce and reaching leadership roles. The way we work and our expectations of the firms we work for is a shift from the traditional model, and there are lots of opportunities for innovation both internally and for our clients.