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The President of the New Zealand Law Society: Kathryn Beck

05 April 2019

What stands out for you over the three years you have been Law Society President?

The people. Throughout the last few years I have been consistently heartened by the quality of the people we have in our profession. I have come across extraordinary generosity of spirit. People who give of their time and energy when they are stretched themselves. People who work hard for little or nothing because they believe in what they do. People who stay calm and kind when things get fraught, who operate with genuine compassion. Clever and creative people who see possibilities and pathways when others have hit dead ends. Good people. People who enable us to have faith and pride in the profession.

They believe in and operate with integrity and respect. They are the strength of the profession. They are in all areas of law and all types of practice. They believe in what they do and they make a difference every day.

It is our people that will be our point of difference in an increasingly depersonalised world and we need to value them and support them to thrive.

How would you describe the state of New Zealand’s legal profession?

I think we are poised.

We are on the brink of change; not to the fundamentals – integrity, respect, upholding justice or operating in the best interests of the client – but to how we operate on a day-to-day basis.

Kathryn Beck

People can feel it. Things are different. It’s uncomfortable. The world around us is changing rapidly and we have been slow in some instances to respond to that. I’m not just talking about digital disruption or new technologies. We were given a massive wake-up call last year that our systems and culture were harmful and we are a bit bruised from the battering that we got from a number of quarters, including our own people. We had to have a good hard look at ourselves and in many cases we didn’t like what we saw. This was hard for people, especially those who behaved with integrity, were proud of their profession and hadn’t seen the things that were happening. But as a profession we listened, we reflected and we accepted that things had to change. There is still a long way to go but people are willing and there is a momentum and genuine desire for change.

For some people this is exciting, they’ve wanted this for a while. They are impatient to just get on with it.

Many are stepping back and taking a strategic approach to what the future of law looks like. They are excited too, but they know that transformational change takes commitment over time.

Others are cautious and they are probably tired. The practice of law is deeply rewarding but hard. Change takes energy. Where can you find that in today’s busy world? Where do you even start? And, they are worried that we will lose the good things that make being a lawyer special.

So, people are coming at it from different angles and, of course I know that some people have no desire to change at all, but in the main the state of the profession is one of readiness and anticipation.

We are ready to review what we do, how we do it and where we do it. The world will not let us stand still. Importantly we are ready to rethink how and what we value. We know we need to do that if we are to be sustainable in the future. What I am getting from the profession is an absolute determination to remain relevant and prove that we are a good profession.

We do not need to lose who we are to do that. There is a particularly apt whakatautoki, Ka mua, ka muri “walking backwards into the future” – the idea that we should look to the past to inform the future. We can look to our core traditional professional values such as integrity, respect and justice, that are still meaningful today and use them to guide our transformation into a sustainable and inclusive profession.

In 2019, what does being a lawyer mean for you?

This will be different for different people because the practice of law, while often very public, is also deeply personal.

I wanted to be a lawyer from a young age (about 12). There were none in our family and I can’t tell you why or what triggered it. There was no epiphany that I can recall. It was what I wanted to do. I believed in what it stood for – which was upholding the rule of law and fairness. I still believe in those things although I am still learning every day about what they mean. I have found that it is a place where I can use my intellect, my experience, my imagination, skills and training to solve problems.

I get to work stuff out and hopefully make things better without destroying things in the process... unless they need to be.

It is not abstract: the work I do impacts people every day, perhaps even more so in the role of President.

And I get to work with people in all their glory, the good, bad, indifferent and fabulous.

Personally, how has being President of the Law Society left you?

Ask me again in a few months because at the moment I’m knackered!

I’m a bit bruised, last year took its toll and I struggled with some aspects of it but I never regretted being in this role.

Deeply grateful that I have had this experience and that I have been able to contribute to the profession.

Like I’ve still got so much more to do but okay that someone else will be doing it – we have a clever, strong and fierce champion for the profession in Tiana.

Most of all I am proud, hopeful and determined that we will be a place where people can come and truly fulfill their potential.

I have absolute faith in our profession and because of that and the fabulous people who have supported and held me up. I feel that I am a better person going out than I was coming in. I have learned a lot and for that I am deeply grateful.

On 10 April 2019 Tiana Epati becomes the 31st elected President of the New Zealand Law Society. She takes over from Kathryn Beck, who has completed three years as President. Kathryn and Tiana were asked to reflect on the role, the profession and their own situations.

Last updated on the 5th April 2019