Kate Storer is looking forward to greater involvement in people management and staff wellbeing
Kate Storer had been taken by “big picture” environmental policy issues since she was a teenager. Going into environmental law was a natural extension of that interest, and her focus on the field has carried her all the way to a promotion to partner at environmental specialist firm Berry Simons.
Storer is keeping an eye on the reformation of New Zealand’s resource management system and the introduction of new legislation, and hopes that the profession’s COVID-19 experience will continue to drive flexible work arrangements that cater more effectively to mothers.
In this interview, Storer talks juggling a challenging career with raising a young child, ensuring that she leaves a lot of time for fun and exercise and her admiration of Harriet Tubman’s endurance.
What made you choose a career in law, and what's your favourite part of the job?
I decided that I wanted to be an environmental lawyer when I was a young teenager. I had always been really interested in the “big picture” environmental policy issues about how society balances resource use with protection of the environment. A career in environmental law seemed like the ideal way to pursue that interest.
My favourite part of the job is working with environmental professionals across a range of disciplines. As resource management lawyers we work closely with a broad range of technical experts and often need to understand complex scientific issues, as well as explain them to a lay audience.
What is going on at the organisation? Are there any new programs and initiatives that you’re particularly interested in?
Our firm is returning to normality after months of remote working. The team adapted really well to working from home and we managed to maintain team culture during this period, but it has been great to see everyone in person. The goal now is to develop the right work from home policy which gets the balance right between maintaining team culture and excellent client care while also recognising the benefits to people’s wellbeing of having some flexibility.
What tech-related initiatives adopted by the organisation, if any, are you most excited about?
Like many law firms, we didn’t really use Microsoft Teams or videoconferencing before the lockdowns, but it has now become a standard part of working life. We have all realised that meetings and even court hearings can be conducted efficiently remotely, though of course it’s not the same as meeting in person.
What has been your proudest accomplishment in the last year or so? What’s the biggest lesson you learned in the past year and what advice can you give fellow lawyers about it?
Well, becoming a partner feels like a pretty big accomplishment!
In terms of lessons learned, I think the main one is about managing workload and stress. With a challenging job and a young child, life can feel pretty full on. In the last year, I have learnt better how to manage this, though it is still a work in progress! Approaching my to do list in manageable chunks really helps, and also scheduling in plenty of time for fun. For me that means heading out for a surf (or two) at the weekend and making time for exercise during the week.
What should the profession focus more on?
I think there is still more to be done to move the culture of the legal profession towards welcoming diversity. I think the profession is slowly realising that there are many benefits to having a diverse workplace, but overcoming the barriers to that at an industry level is taking longer.
In terms of gender diversity, I’m hopeful that our experience of the pandemic might move things along a bit in terms of promoting flexible working policies that make it easier for women with young children to decide to stay in the 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?
The reform of the resource management system in New Zealand will be a major challenge for all resource management professionals to grapple with. Legislation to replace the Resource Management Act 1991 is expected to be introduced this year and if passed, will mean the adoption of an entirely new decision-making framework.
I think we all agree that it is necessary, but it remains to be seen whether the new legislation will represent an improvement on the status quo. Many of the issues with the RMA are not about the Act itself but about its implementation – and new legislation is not going to solve that problem.
What are you looking forward to the most in the coming year?
I am looking forward to taking on my new role as a partner of Berry Simons, and in particular having more involvement in the people management and staff wellbeing side of the business.
If you were given an opportunity to spend a day with anyone (living or dead), who would it be and why?
Harriet Tubman, who escaped from slavery and then made numerous missions to rescue others. I cannot imagine how she could endure such incredible adversity from birth and then go on to become such a hero.