New Zealand Law Society - A young lawyer balancing the law and parenthood

A young lawyer balancing the law and parenthood

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Waiata Bell
Waiata Bell

After graduating in 2015, Waiata Bell is now a solicitor in Simpson Grierson’s Local Government and Environment team in their Auckland office. Between completing her LLB and her admission as a barrister and solicitor in November 2017, she became a mother.

Rotorua-born, Ms Bell had a passion for hockey while growing up and studied physical education and health at high school. After finishing school, she moved to Hamilton to attend Waikato University, starting a Bachelor of Social Sciences majoring in political science and philosophy.

Not long after beginning her studies, Ms Bell swapped the course for a law degree.

“My parents actually met in law school. They were both studying at Waikato University, which perhaps meant that the prospect of me becoming a lawyer had been somewhat implanted in my mind since the early years of my life.

“I always wondered if I could do what they did, the thought of solving people’s issues using words and ideas with great tact as your tools had always fascinated me.”

Ms Bell’s completion of an LLB at Waikato University in 2015 was followed by the birth of her son, Zane.

Life as a young mum and lawyer

“I had Zane shortly after completing my degree in 2015 – I don’t remember graduation day all too well, given that I had a one-month-old baby and hadn’t slept in what felt like a lifetime.”

While juggling work and parenting isn’t unheard of, it isn’t every day a law graduate enters the profession while adjusting to both work and parenthood.

“Being young in the law is, obviously, challenging because of the inexperience and constant need to learn more – and fast. But, being young as a mother, has only meant I have a lot of energy for my little boy. Each day I try to take one finely balanced step at a time [and] some days the steps are not so balanced. It’s more like running a marathon through gale force winds blindfolded.

“It is true that junior lawyers ‘hit the ground running’. We come out of university with our head full of dreams and degree in hand, thrust into jobs more unfamiliar than we could have prepared for. However, when you become a mother, you hit the ground sprinting. And, while it is a juggling act, it’s an enjoyable one. It’s a necessary one. And so far, it sure has been a worthwhile one.”

Despite the long days, Ms Bell and her partner Daniel Groot work together like a well-oiled machine when it comes to balancing their work days and parenting.

Mr Groot is a personal trainer and Crossfit coach but Ms Bell says “we have managed to sync our schedules so that we both share our duties looking after Zane”.

“And if you’re wondering if that means I get free personal training, the answer is no. Having my partner yell at me to run faster, after a long workday, is not my cup of tea.”

Passion for her area of law

“In everything we do, our lives are constantly dependent on the ever-changing state of our environment.”

Ms Bell has a passion for local government and environmental law.

“I took one environmental/resource management paper at university and the rest was history. I knew that I wanted to be involved in this type of law. However, I will also add that the environment is not something you need to have studied in order to have a simple understanding of what it is and how it affects us.

“Our drinking water, the oceans we spend all summer swimming in, the land we cover with houses, roads and shopping malls, and even the air we breathe, are all affected by our decisions and the way we manage and develop our environment in the most sustainable way.

“I have always been highly interested in the issues that we face in terms of this area of the law and I enjoy doing work that I am passionate about, but more importantly I think, doing work that I feel is purposeful.

“Last year I was lucky enough to work alongside one of the partners in my team, Gerald Lanning, representing the Auckland Council on the highly-publicised East-West Link project.”

The East-West Link Proposal involves the construction of a highway along the Māngere Inlet/Onehunga area. On 23 January this year the proposal was granted resource consents.

“My role included attending many weeks of the three-month-long hearing – yes three months – managing expert witnesses, reviewing reports, and even site visits, which are always a luxury having half a day out of the office on an adventure.”

Ms Bell is currently working on the America’s Cup base infrastructure proposal: “Much like the East-West Link, the America’s Cup base has gained a lot of media attention. It is very exciting to be working on a project and to see it being reported on later that night on TV.

“My involvement on this has been extremely interesting, providing me with almost enough knowledge on yacht races to perhaps take it up myself.”

Disengaging from work

“I probably sound a bit boring come to think about it, but the truth really is if I am not at work, I am more than happy to spend my time with my family.

“Don’t get me wrong, I am definitely a bit of a social butterfly. I love to socialise with friends, which often includes good music, wine and too much food.

“I wish I could tell you that I had a secret hobby of being a deep-sea diver or a world-class acrobat, but in reality my favourite days are actually those spent with my family in Rotorua and Tauranga.

“I don’t find it too hard to disengage from work, because the minute I get to day-care I am always greeted by a bubbly and very full-on little boy.”

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