Interview with Julia Batchelor-Smith: Senior Associate at MinterEllisonRuddWatts
Julia Batchelor-Smith holds a senior legal and strategic role with MinterEllisonRuddWatts in Auckland and has over 15 years’ experience in New Zealand and overseas.
Julia Batchelor-Smith holds a senior legal and strategic role with MinterEllisonRuddWatts in Auckland. She has over 15 years’ experience in New Zealand and overseas. Julia is the author of Balancing Work and Life: a Practical Guide for Lawyers (LexisNexis 2015), providing strategies to achieve work/life balance, effective practice management, and diversity within the legal profession.
In September 2018, Julia was appointed to the New Zealand Law Society Culture Change Taskforce. She regularly speaks on cultural change strategies, having addressed local and central Government, Universities, legal associations, private corporations, and industry bodies both within New Zealand and internationally.
NZLS Auckland Branch talks to Julia about her book and her recent speaking engagement at the Tahiti Women’s Forum.
Your book ‘Balancing Work and Life: A Practical Guide for Lawyers’ was published in 2015. Why did you write the book at that particular time and how has it been received by the legal community in NZ?
I found myself in uncharted territory after having our eldest daughter, Allegra. Initially it seemed impossible to have everything at once: fulfilment at home as a mum and wife; be a good friend to those closest to me; and have a satisfying career as a lawyer — so I became passionate about exploring strategies to navigate those challenges.
I started by writing a column for NZ Lawyer magazine, which was well-received. That led to Lexis Nexis approaching me to write a book just before going on maternity leave with my youngest daughter, Zoe.
I wanted to write something that would hopefully be of value and cover a wide range of topics. I included case studies from a spectrum of practitioners both within New Zealand and internationally. That was such a valuable process, resulting in over 90 personal insights from 60 members of the Judiciary and lawyers at all stages in their career. I think it’s a practical, helpful resource that is useful for lawyers at any stage of their career.
You have done a number of speaking engagements since then. Have there been any particular components of the book that resonate with your audience and, if so, what are they?
The concept of work/life blending — as opposed to balance — has seemed to really resonate with people I speak to. In today’s fast-paced society it’s not realistic to stiffly demarcate those spheres any more. So the concept of integrating work and life commitments is increasingly gaining traction.
Blending is not about working 24/7 — far from it. The focus is on seeking to live a single contented life, and adopting a “give and take” mentality at home and work to achieve that. So if I’m at work and I get a call from school, I’m not going to feel bad about taking that call (or leaving if I need to). But on the flipside, if I’m called by a client or team member and I’m home with my kids, that’s OK too. It’s about constantly assessing your overall happiness in your life as a whole rather than artificially separating office life from home life (which is not possible in today’s hyper-connected world).
You are also a senior associate at MinterEllisonRuddWatts and have a family. What specific strategies do you follow to achieve work/life balance and does that work during particularly busy periods in your life?
If I had to rate any aspect of my life that is a non-negotiable, it’s working in an environment that affords me the latitude to do the things that are important for my family while our kids are young, while still developing a fulfilling career. For me, that means I work the equivalent of three full days, spread across four. That enables me to drop and pick up our girls from school most days. For an arrangement like mine to work, I think there has to be healthy relationships (at home and work); a good attitude to flexibility from both employer and employee; and a degree of trust. I’m lucky to have that in my team at Minters.
In terms of specific strategies, I think being clinical about to-do lists is important. I am far from perfect, but try hard to have everything written down and prioritised so I know broadly what I need to do and when. I also can’t live without my outlook calendar. My husband Chris and I schedule everything - life gets so busy that if it’s not in the calendar, it’s probably not going to happen! Finally, I’ve learned that during those really busy times is when excellent communication is most-needed in all of your interpersonal relationships.
Recently, you were one of the guest speakers at the Tahiti Women’s Forum. What can you tell us about the Forum and what was your speech about?
The Tahiti Women’s Forum was organised by the French Development Agency and attended by 200 delegates from across the Pacific, including the Foreign Minister and the Australian Consul General. My session explored the emerging concept of relational intelligence, which is primarily concerned with how we relate to and influence those around us. I focused on ways to develop relational intelligence to promote agile leadership in business.
It was a fantastic opportunity to connect with inspiring female leaders from across the Pacific. It was also an example of work/life blending in action, as my daughter Allegra came along to hear me speak (and even got to experience a day in local school as part of the trip!).
What were some of the themes covered at the Forum and how would you describe your experience there?
The overarching theme for this year’s Forum was celebrating women as change makers in the Pacific region. It was fantastic to learn that Tahiti has a really high number of female entrepreneurs, who are at the forefront of driving the economy forward.
The themes explored centred around how we can encourage and facilitate those successes, whilst acknowledging that women can face challenges including balancing career with family demands, and unconscious bias resulting in a lack of diversity and inclusion. The Forum was solutions-focused, with a wide range of women sharing their strategies to navigate and overcome common challenges.
What are some of the key takeaways for you personally from the Forum?
For me there were three key takeaways. First and foremost, we need to be the change we want to see. Just because no-one is currently doing something a particular way, doesn’t stop you from giving it a go yourself. Second, sharing stories is incredibly valuable. Learn from those around you, and take every chance to connect with others for your own personal growth. Finally, if your French is not up to it, don’t try to hire a man to take you out on a boat to see stingrays, because you may find yourself being left to drive the boat yourself whilst avoiding snorkellers and coral reefs. Not ideal! Suffice to say I used hand gestures and an emphatic non, merci! to graciously decline.
Do you have any plans to write another book and, if so, what topics would you cover?
I’m in the process of re-publishing my first book for a wider audience, as the themes apply equally to all busy professionals. I am also working on a second book on identifying our individual purpose with Alex Davids, a renowned Executive Coach, which is a really exciting project.
If there is one tip you could give to someone reading this article who’s struggling to find a good work/life balance, what would it be?
My advice would be to give serious thought to what will work for you right now and then do your best to structure your life accordingly. I have found it helpful to accept that not all career trajectories will be linear. It's OK to deviate for a period - and it can be a really positive thing to do if it works for you and your family.
I think the key is to be very clear on what your priorities are, and to give effect to those priorities. To do that properly, it's critical you realise that it's about what's most important to you - not to your colleagues, or to your friends, or to anyone else. The measure of happiness differs from person to person, so although it's hard, we need to resist the temptation to compare ourselves to others.
Finally, never ram a stake too firmly in the ground. Our lives are in a constant state of flux and things will always change, so maintaining flexibility of approach is important to continually navigate what happiness looks like for you across both work and life spheres.