Inspired by Atticus Finch: Caroline Laband on why she started lawyering

by NZ Lawyer29 Feb 2016
Caroline Laband, partner at DLA Piper tells NZ Lawyer about the strangest case she’s worked on, an insurance claim arising from a cancelled concert.

What made you decide to become a lawyer?
Most lawyers will tell you it was Atticus Finch that inspired them to be a lawyer.  In truth it is more likely to be 'A Few Good Men' or 'My Cousin Vinny'.

How long have you worked at DLA Piper and what brought you to this position?
About 6 weeks and counting!  Moving to DLA Piper was an opportunity for me to focus on insurance claims litigation in an award winning insurance team. It ties in well with my background as an insurance barrister in England, and I love being part of the only firm in New Zealand with truly global reach.

What’s the strangest case you’ve ever worked on/been involved with?
I was involved in an insurance claim arising out of cancellation of a rock concert by Oasis.  The issue was whether the concerts were cancelled because the drummer was ill, or because Noel and Liam Gallagher had a bust up.  I wish that one had gone to trial. 

If you could invite three people for dinner, dead or alive and excluding family and friends, who would they be and why?
Experimental chef, Heston Blumenthal, so that he could create some sort of amazing liquid nitrogen snail porridge ice cream for dessert. Comedian Russell Brand, who I saw at the Vector Arena a few years ago.  I certainly don’t agree with everything he says, but he has some unusual viewpoints and I think he would be interesting and very amusing company.  Finally, my childhood hero was a British journalist called Kate Adie, who did some insightful and ridiculously brave reporting from war zones across the world, and was always calm and authoritative even when bombs and firearms were going off around her. She’d be able to put Russell Brand in his place. 

You’re based in Auckland – where’s the best place to go for a drink and/or dinner after work?
Café Hanoi in Britomart for amazing Vietnamese food.  Their sister bar across the road, Xuxu, does an amazing chilli passion fruit martini.

What’s the best piece of advice (work or personal) you’ve ever been given?
"You miss 100% of the shots you don't take."  Apparently Wayne Gretzky, the Canadian ice hockey legend said that.  He also said "A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be."  I can see a lot of similarities between ice hockey and practising law. Although the punch ups are (usually) of the metaphorical kind.

Do you have any hobbies/interests outside of work?
Paddleboarding, ocean swimming, running. Although at the moment my weekends are pretty much taken up by kids sport. I grew up in England where Saturday sport just wasn't 'a thing'.  I'm passionate about the benefits for children of doing sport and being part of a team. It's one of the things I love about New Zealand, where any child can get involved in a team sport and develop skills, confidence, resilience, and learn many other life lessons just by turning up to play on a Saturday morning.

Complete this sentence: If I wasn’t a lawyer, I would be…
… a volcanologist.

What do you think will be single biggest issue facing the legal space in New Zealand in 2016?
There is a lot of restructuring and consolidation happening at the big corporate clients right now.  With that comes a driver to reduce costs including legal spend, and rationalise legal panels. More than ever before lawyers need to establish that we can add real value to our clients over and above their in-house capabilities and resources. We have to be able to offer something a bit different, specialised, or more efficient to stay relevant. 

If you had John Key’s job for one day, what would you do?
Invest more in improving public transport, and then an initiative to get people actually using it in Auckland.  Traffic congestion is only going to get worse as the city grows in size and density but so many people still drive to work.  Once better infrastructure is in place maybe we should have a congestion charge similar to London to discourage driving. In writing this I realise how unpopular that would make me, and I probably wouldn't get re-elected! It's easy for me to say - with a 12 minute ferry journey I think I've got the best commute in the world.

What do you love about your job?
Helping clients get past road blocks with creative solutions.  That sounds like marketing spiel, but one of the most satisfying parts of the job is being faced with a web of difficulties and problems, and finding a new or different way to cut through it.

What would you change about your job right now if you could?
I wish I had a time machine or maybe a doppelgänger, so I could spend as much time as I needed at work, spend all day with my children, and still have time to run, paddleboard, swim in the sea and go out for dinner with my husband.  There is definitely more willingness to talk about work life balance than their used to be, and I think many law firms are doing much more now than they were a few years ago to look after their employees in that respect. Inevitably there will still always be competing demands on our time and compromises to be made.