Five minutes with… Emily Henderson

by Miklos Bolza07 Sep 2015
What made you decide to become a lawyer?
My dad’s a family court lawyer and he made it look like a job where you could make a difference to people’s lives. Plus what else do you do when all you’re good at is English and debating?

How long have you worked at Henderson Reeves Connell Rishworth and what brought you to this position?
I think this is my third stint with the firm. I started there as a baby barrister, then I did my PhD in Cambridge, then my husband and I both joined a few years later. I went prosecuting, went back to Cambridge on the NZLF Fellowship with the family and now: voila! Here I am again. I love the place. My dad’s still here and my husband is a partner upstairs. We’ve got a smart, passionate, supportive team, and I love it.

What’s the most memorable case you’ve ever worked on/been involved with?
I’m never going to forget the trial where the judge tried to suggest that my brilliant cross-examination was going a little astray and I said, “Yeah, yeah, yeah”. He’s forgiven me now . . . I think.

If you could invite three people for dinner, dead or alive and excluding family and friends, who would they be and why?
Jane Austen, revolutionary; Igor Judge, the ex-Lord Chief Justice of England, ditto, and Terry Pratchett, because no one pins injustice like Pratchett. Three great social critics.

Where’s the best place to go for a drink and/or dinner after work in Whangarei?
We have little kids so there isn’t a lot of going out for dinner, but our local café, Bob, let me sit in a corner and drink tea while I wrote my fellowship articles for weeks on end, so they get my vote. 

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given (work or personal)?
My husband’s piece of advice which is, “It’s just a job”. I’m not good with that one. The problem is it conflicts with my basic impression that you should find what you want to do and just do it flat out. 

Do you have any hobbies/interests outside of work?
I have four children. Do they count? 

Complete this sentence: If I wasn’t a lawyer, I would be…
A ballet dancer. Except that I can’t dance at all. More realistically, an anthropologist and I’d still be writing about lawyers: we’re such an interesting culture and we’re very insular and trying to get us to change our practice is very tricky. I think a lot of what I do is actually social anthropology rather than law. It’s about what makes us as a group tick and how you create conditions for change whilst still sticking true to our values.

What do you think will be single biggest issue facing the legal space in New Zealand in 2015?
Two things: One is that with trial practice in relation to vulnerable people especially, we need to clean our house before someone cleans it for us. I think if we’re not very careful and we don’t sort ourselves out, the public and the government might take a lot of the options out of our hands. 

The other thing is the cuts to Legal Aid. Legal representation is a necessity. I have so many clients who can’t get Legal Aid and who are struggling in consequence. It’s heartbreaking. 

If you had John Key’s job for one day, what would you do?
I would pour our money into early childhood healthcare and education. It’s the only cost efficient thing to do. Things are only going to change if we stop the cycle by getting heavily involved with the youngest people. It’s really just common sense.

What do you love about your job?
I love the ability to be of assistance to people at some of the worst moments in their life. That’s just an incredible privilege and it’s an incredible relief to know that you’re being there. 

What would you change about your job right now if you could?
I’d put the tea-making facilities in my office so I don’t have to get up when I have another cup. I’m completely addicted.