New Zealand Law Society - Work/Life priorities for wannabe chopper jockey

Work/Life priorities for wannabe chopper jockey

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By Jock Anderson

Kathryn Rae (Kathryn) Pengelly
Takapuna, Auckland. 
Entry to law
Graduated Auckland University LLB(Hons) 1999. Admitted 1999. 
Senior Associate at DLA Phillips Fox, Auckland. 
Speciality area
Insurance and reinsurance, public liability and professional indemnity.
Kathryn Pengelly
Kathryn Pengelly

What is a born and raised Shore girl with a builder husband, two kids, a love of trashy vampire novels and who really wants to fly helicopters doing as a senior associate in New Zealand’s biggest insurance law firm?


The work, says Kathryn Pengelly, is fantastic, the firm is flexible, the people she works with are great and she has a good work/life balance.

After time in the UK, where their children were born, Kathryn arrived back in New Zealand with husband Peter Humphries, son Jacob (now 6) and daughter Brooke (now 4), on 4 September 2010 – the day of the first Christchurch earthquake.

She started at DLA Phillips Fox on 22 February 2011, the day of the major after shock ‘quake and not surprisingly much of her work since has involved earthquake-related insurance issues.

Finding a “crappy, deceased estate house in a fantastic location” only a couple of minutes from the beach – which Peter is “tidying up” – was a bonus.

“We didn’t want the kids in full-time day care so Peter – who works three days a week on small building projects – agreed to look after the kids and it works well for the family.”

Kathryn, a rower, and Peter, a triathlete, met through their interest in rowing and married ten years later in Rarotonga in 2013 – to coincide with the Rarotonga international triathlon – after she proposed to Peter in the 2012 leap year. [Peter finished 14th overall and fourth in his division.]

A top eights rower and sports captain at Westlake Girls High School, her rowing career went on hold while she was at university until she took up coaching for a couple of years.

“One of the girls I coached is at DLA Philips Fox, several others are also lawyers, one a teacher, another a doctor…”

She says rowing opportunities were limited in New Zealand between the Maadi Cup high school level and Commonwealth and Olympic level but discovered a wider scope when living and working in England dealing with in-house professional indemnity claims for solicitors.

“There were better maternity provisions, five weeks holiday, no stress… And in England there were more rowing events for the have-a-goers.”

She did well as a member of the Thames-based Barnes Bridge Ladies Rowing Club, winning a number of medals in club and masters events at Henley.

Her favourite TV show??? “Definitely US political thriller Scandal on TV2 and US legal drama Suits, not yet shown here, reruns of House and Downton Abbey – which I stumbled on over Christmas…”

Best books??? “I read complete trash on Kindle, vampire and romance stuff, except on holiday when I tackled Ken Follett’s massive historical fiction World Without End…”

Eating out??? “With kids it’s usually McDonald’s happy meals, I have coffee a lot and drink wine…Eating is not terribly exciting for us…”

Biggest challenge??? “Climbing the ladder and knowing where I want to end up…I’m not sure yet…”

“I’d quite like to know what it’s like to be a High Court judge… That would be preferable to being a politician…”

Kathryn recommends taking up law: “It has the highest rate of depression and stress but a law degree is fantastic for a whole range of jobs – you don’t have to be a lawyer. And what’s the point of a BA these days???”

She fell into insurance law. “No-one says I want to be in insurance… You only hear about insurance law when things go wrong… but the more you get into it the more interesting and fascinating it gets.”

Starting with general litigation, including leaky building and earthquake issues Kathryn is also helping restrengthening the firm’s litigation team.

A natural organiser who “chips in a does things”, she organises internal continuing legal education seminars.

Initially keen on being a physiotherapist, a lawyer or an air force helicopter pilot, she got to the final stages of her application to join the air force but was deemed to be “too much of a leader for us” and missed out.

“I don’t know how some people work full-time jobs, have families and keep everything together… Peter and I are lucky we make it work…”

“It would be nice to give up law one day and train to be a helicopter pilot…”

Jock Anderson has been writing and commenting on New Zealand lawyers and New Zealand's courts for several decades. He also writes the weekly Caseload column for the New Zealand Herald. Contact Jock at

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