New Zealand Law Society - Ten Questions: Linda Clark, Kensington Swan Special Counsel

Ten Questions: Linda Clark, Kensington Swan Special Counsel

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Linda Clark
Linda Clark

Former TVNZ political editor, Radio New Zealand’s Nine to Noon programme host, political reporter and political commentator, Linda Clark now works as a special counsel for Kensington Swan in the firm's Wellington office.

Why did you choose law as a career?

I came to the law through a very long and circuitous route. I went to university hundreds of years ago to study law, but it was a short flirtation. Despite originally thinking I would become a lawyer, I was easily distracted by politics and other pursuits and ended up in journalism instead. However throughout my career in the media some of the most interesting interviews involved the law or issues about the law and consequently the idea of finishing my law degree never completely faded.

At the age of 40 and with two small babies I decided finally to stop thinking about the law and actually do it. Many of my colleagues in the media thought I was either mad or hormonal.

What was I thinking? Certainly it was a radical, some might say rash, life change. But in the end what prompted the leap was a mixture of curiosity, the desire for an intellectual challenge, a strong belief in the vital role the law plays in a functioning democracy and the idealistic belief that lawyers can and do make a difference.

Do you still feel that way?

The change was harder than I could have ever imagined, but completely worthwhile.

What is the one thing that has given you most satisfaction in your career?

I don't like to think about my legal life as a "career". Not yet, anyway. But the things that have given me most satisfaction - to date - are the things I can't talk about. Solving people's problems, negotiating tough settlements and being lucky enough to be regarded as a trusted advisor in tough times. It's a privilege.

What is the biggest challenge you have faced as a lawyer?

The biggest challenge has simply been making the transition from being in the media - where newsrooms are rowdy, rambunctious places where they definitely don't charge by the unit - to being part of a law firm.

There are many similarities between journalism and law - and many others have switched between the professions. But the rigorous, logical way of dissecting the issues at the core of any legal problem is a far more disciplined process than any journalistic inquiry and it takes time to feel confident about mastering it.

What advice would you give to someone considering studying law?

Be sure you want this. A law degree is a hard slog and just because you're bright doesn't mean you're suited to a legal career. Also find supervisors who can support you and foster your individual talents.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing New Zealand lawyers?

There are many challenges facing lawyers - legal advice is expensive (prohibitively for some clients) and clients are rightly anxious to make sure their money is well spent. Law firms are under sustained pressure to be pragmatic, efficient, and commercially minded. It shocked me a little when I first graduated to realise that, if you took away the computers, the modern law practice is not much changed from 50 years ago. And yet the world has been turned on its head in that time.

As a female lawyer there are other distinct challenges. The profession is still badly skewed along gender lines, with far too few women reaching the more senior ranks. This is a waste of good talent and, frankly, bad economics. It is good to be working in a firm which is taking active steps to address this imbalance.

What do you enjoy doing outside lawyering?

Outside the law I live a busy family life that mainly involves taxiing my boys to activities and sports and endlessly cooking. But I am lucky to have a strong circle of loyal and fabulous friends and as much as I can I spend time with them.

What music do you listen to?

At the moment - Sufjan Stevens, Ed Sheeran or anything on commercial radio that my kids insist on playing loud. But by choice - Steve Earle, Old 97s, Dusty Springfield and Christmas carols. Yep, eclectic.

What are you reading at the moment?

Awal Gawunde's latest on Mortality, Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink and Twitter.

The best movie and TV shows I’ve seen?

TV - The Wire, House of Cards (naturally), Pennies from Heaven, The Vote (just joking). Movies - Broadcast News, Cinema Paradiso, Love, Actually.

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