New Zealand Law Society - Interview with Misha Henaghan

Interview with Misha Henaghan

Misha Henaghan is a Partner at global law firm DLA Piper and is a civil litigator specialising in insurance. 

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Misha regularly acts as defence and coverage counsel in property claims, professional negligence claims (including disciplinary claims) involving construction professionals, lawyers, accountants and brokers, product and public liability claims and statutory liability claims. Misha has a particular interest in liability arising out of the development of Insurtech and has spoken at insurance industry conferences on this topic. Misha also acts for healthcare practitioners in HDC complaints, coronial inquiries and disciplinary proceedings. Misha is a new council member of the NZLS Auckland Branch Council.

Congratulations on your recent election as a new council member of the NZLS Auckland Branch Council. Why did you decide to stand for election and what are some of your goals as a Council member?

My personal motivation to stand for election stemmed from my desire to get involved in and contribute to the wider legal profession. I also believe it is important to have continued representation in the Auckland Branch Council from large firms, which make up a big part of the legal community in Auckland.

I would like to build on the good work already being done by the National Council and Auckland Branch Council particularly around legal education, mental wellbeing and diversity and inclusion. DLA Piper has 43% female partners, the highest equity female partner ratio of large law firms in New Zealand, and a global Leadership Alliance for Women programme so I’ve seen first-hand the benefits in empowering younger lawyers and female lawyers. I hope that I can utilise those learnings in my role on the Council.

Why did you choose a legal profession and where did you study law?

I actually initially chose a career in medicine. A few weeks into lectures, I changed to study law and graduated five years later with an LLB (First Class Honours) and BSc majoring in genetics from Otago University. On reflection, I was probably trying to pave a career away from law because my Dad was the dean of the law faculty and a big personality in Dunedin. However, I soon realised I was well suited to a career as a litigator (I was involved in debating, public speaking, a prefect, captain of sports teams etc). My brother followed a similar path to the law as me, although he didn’t come to the realisation he should pursue a career in law until after he had completed his BCom!

You specialise in insurance and health law. What drew you to these particular areas of law?

I started my career as a general civil litigator and like most people in the insurance industry, I fell into insurance and quickly developed a love for the industry. Being a litigator in one of NZ’s largest specialist insurance practices means I have the privilege of working on varied, interesting, complex and challenging contentious claims with long-standing global and Australasian clients, I get to help businesses in times of need and, where appropriate, I get to test important issues through the Courts. I would like to see the public misconception that insurers do not want to pay claims dispelled as that certainly is not my experience.  I developed an interest in health law from being interested in science-related claims from my genetics degree, which has led me to develop a small sub-speciality in medico-legal and life-science matters.

How long have you been a partner and was partnership one of your career objectives when you started?

I was internally promoted to Partner at DLA Piper effective 1 July 2018 subject to law society requirements and I was able to officially sign off as a partner on 15 August 2018. This was after a rigorous eight to nine-month global promotion process, including attending the global DLA Piper path to partnership management course with European, Australian and UK colleagues, and interviewing with our Australasian and global leadership team.

When I started my career at a top-tier national firm as a fresh faced 23-year-old, I was simply trying to adapt to working full time in an office environment and manage the transition from law school to practising law. Wanting to become a Partner came later from doing work that I love with a wonderful team and clients, learning about the business of law, and having colleagues and mentors who believe in me and encouraged me to take the next step in my career.

Based on your experience, what are some of the attributes personal and professional, you had to have to progress from a solicitor to a partner?

This is a tricky question to answer given it is a relatively recent transition. My family tell me it’s dedication, positivity and enthusiasm. My colleagues tell me that it's having a friendly down-to-earth nature, strong work ethic, technical-ability, passion and drive that enabled me to grow my practice and develop trusted-advisor relationships. I always strive to be responsive and provide pragmatic, strategic, commercial advice, through putting myself in my clients’ shoes. I am also lucky to work in a collaborative, talented and supportive team and at a global firm with fantastic opportunities and resources, which has assisted with my progression and enabled a smooth transition.

How do you manage work-life balance with such a high performing career?

A few months after becoming a Partner last year, I was surprised to learn that I was pregnant with my second child and our healthy and happy little boy completed our family in April, so life has been rather busy, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I consider that I manage balance through:

  1. Having a strong support network. My amazing husband, who is currently on paternity leave. My parents, who moved to Auckland this year, with my mum recently retiring. My supportive team/firm and clients.
  2. Technology which enables me to be flexible around family and work commitments when I need to be.
  3. Not over committing myself socially/personally and deliberately prioritising what is important i.e. spending quality time with my family and close friends.
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