Kathryn Beck, employment lawyer and partner at SBM Legal, took up her role as President of the New Zealand Law Society last Friday (15 April).
Starting her career in litigation, Beck eventually moved into employment law. She eventually set up a boutique law firm which was later merged with SBM Legal.
She has played an active role in the New Zealand Law Society for many years, speaking at seminars and conferences and acting as convener of the Society’s Employment Law Committee.
She moves into the office of President from her role as Vice-President for Auckland and the Upper North Island region.
While leading the Law Society, Beck says she will focus on three key areas: the retention & promotion of women, access to justice, and the wellbeing of practitioners.
“In terms of retention and promotion of women in law, we’ve set up an advisory panel,” she said. “This is because we can see that education, discussion and current programs just haven’t been enough to really change our situation.”
Lamenting the “woeful” figures in terms of gender diversity in law, Beck says the panel will investigate what other countries are doing overseas and what is presently working in New Zealand.
“While 61% of students coming out of the law schools are women and 48% of our people holding practicing certificates are women, only 21% of them are in leadership positions.
“I will be listening to that panel and hearing their feedback about what actions they think we should take to address this problem. I will then try to lead the charge in terms of putting those actions in place.”
While access to justice is a broad area, Beck says she wants to ensure people have the information they need when they need it. For instance, those looking for dispute resolution would have access to information through a system that sorts out the issue in a timely manner.
“We really need to be looking hard at the systems we’re using, their costs, and how they operate. We need to be innovative in finding different ways of providing dispute resolution within society.”
Beck’s focus on practitioner wellbeing also entails access to information – only this time aiming at giving those within the legal community support to promote their physical and mental health.
“We’re talking about a new partnership that will give people access to information and resources around how they can assess and improve their physical wellbeing,” Beck said. “We all know you do a better job as a lawyer if you’re mentally and physically healthy.”
As for mental wellbeing, support will be extended to those worried about others in the legal field, she added.
“We need to make sure that everybody knows what resources are available either for themselves or for their colleagues if they become concerned,” she said.
As well as providing relevant information online, there will also be helplines such as the Law Society’s Friends Panel to give advice about what to do in difficult situations.
“We’ll need to make sure people know where they can go to find out what options and resources are available to them. If they can’t find it easily on our website, they’ll have someone they can call who can help them with that.”
Last Friday, the New Zealand Law Society also announced it had elected four Vice-Presidents, each for a two year term. The Vice-Presidents represent different Law Society branches and are found below:
- Tim Jones (Auckland)
- Tiana Epati (Central North Island)
- Nerissa Barber (Wellington)
- Andrew Logan (South Island)