Kensington Swan partner says being a lawyer is about resilience and empathy

by Duffie Osental20 Jul 2019

Marija Batistich, a partner at Kensington Swan, is an expert in resource management and government and regulatory law. She is also a mentor, mother, and literary enthusiast who believes that both resilience and empathy are important traits to have as a lawyer.

At Kensington Swan, Batistich’s particular focus is on infrastructure, especially transport and development. But when she is not working on important city-shaping projects across Auckland, she maintains an active family life and hopes that her career can serve as an example of how to achieve a healthy work-life balance in the legal profession.

In this interview, Batistich shares what she loves most about her job and the accomplishments of her firm over the past year.

What made you choose a career in law and how did you get a start?

I was a keen debater and public speaker at school, who enjoyed history and English, so along with a side interest in politics, pretty much the background of many law students! However, as the first person in my family to study law, the pressure was on.

What do you love most about your job? If you can change anything, what would it be?

I enjoy the variety of work I do as a partner in our environment and planning team. I thoroughly enjoy the challenge of running a practice and it is truly rewarding to help coach and mentor those in my team and help them to achieve their full potential. Having become a partner and managed to maintain an active family life, I hope that my career path helps those in my team realise what can be achieved whilst still maintaining a healthy work-life balance.  As a mother of three girls, I am very conscious of this! On the more technical aspect of what I do, the ability to work on the consenting of major infrastructure projects is really exciting and requires the managing not only complex legal issues but just as importantly multiple stakeholders from large organisations through to the ultimate users of the proposed infrastructure, the general public.  In terms of satisfaction, you can’t get better work stories than when they are actually built! If I could change anything, I would try to ensure that every project I work on is actually built as there is nothing more frustrating than successfully consenting a project only to have it shelved for lack of funding.

If you had Jacinda Ardern’s job, what would you do?

Invest in existing infrastructure and plan new infrastructure to respond to the growing needs of our communities – if people can’t get to school or work without huge delays then we need to look at why. Unlocking our core infrastructure will have a real positive flow-through on many of the Government’s important social plans as it will help make housing more accessible and likely more affordable and it will also facilitate travel for our workforce across communities assisting small businesses as well as larger ones.

If you could invite three people for dinner, dead or alive and excluding family and friends, who would they be and why?

The notorious RBG (better known as Ruth Bader Ginsburg) the second female American supreme court justice who is facing an increasingly conservative bench, Margaret Atwood to find out what she really thinks of the latest series of “The Handmaid’s Tale” and Lorde to remind us of how proud we should be of the next generation (and listen to them!).

What is going on at the firm? Are there any new programs, initiatives, and such that you’re particularly interested in?

Diversity and inclusion are key focus areas for Kensington Swan. It is no surprise, therefore, that we currently have 36% female equity partners and two-fifths of our board is also female.  Flexibility is only a catchphrase in the workplace unless the leadership commits to it and I’m delighted that as a firm we have made that firm commitment. This focus on creating a positive work culture supported by the right policies and training has led to Kensington Swan being recognised as a finalist in the Empowerment category at this year’s Diversity Works Awards. As the only law firm recognised in the Awards, we are very proud of our achievements to date (and grateful to our clients who suggested that we should be nominated in the first place!)

What’s the biggest lesson you learned in the past year and what advice can you give to fellow lawyers about it?

Being a lawyer is not just about hard work and determination, it is about resilience and empathy. You are in the job for the long game, and the investment in both staff and client relationships is integral to ensuring the best outcomes on that journey.

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?

At Kensington Swan, we have worked hard on removing the barriers to women becoming partners and have made significant progress. However, the elephant in the room is currently the lack of cultural diversity within New Zealand law firms. The ethnic makeup of most law firms does not reflect that of their clients or society. It’s something we need to be more aware of on a daily basis in our advice, decision making, and in relation to recruitment.

What has been your proudest accomplishment in the past year?

Contributing to the fabric of the firm in a way that I never thought possible, being able to have a voice as a new partner and being involved in the decision making on the firm’s strategic direction. It has also been fantastic to work on some significant infrastructure projects which will have a real positive impact on New Zealand for the next few years.

What should the profession and law firms focus more on?

Building long lasting and enduring client relationships – rather than focusing on short term targets. Part of this is us providing strategic advice tied to business goals, supported by sound legal judgements.

What are you looking forward to the most in the coming year?

The opportunity to work with our clients in delivering city, and region-shaping projects that will improve where and how we live. Although I’m also looking forward to the Elton John Concert this Summer, but I am not sure it will be as memorable as the duelling pianos of Billy Joel and Elton John together many summers ago.

Marija Batistich