New Zealand Law Society - Church, community and family provide provincial reward

Church, community and family provide provincial reward

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A strong church and community involvement, a supportive husband, plus the ability to tailor her work hours to family needs is an enjoyable reward for Palmerston North lawyer Melissa Bourke.

Recently promoted to associate with Innes Dean Tararua Law's Palmerston North office, Melissa – who comes from a dairy farming background - specialises in elder law and working with farming clients on such areas as succession planning.

Melissa Mary (Melissa) Bourke
Palmerston North. 
Entry to law
Graduated BA in political science and film, and LLB from Victoria University in 2007. Admitted in 2011. 
Associate at Innes Dean Tararua Law, Palmerston North. 
Speciality area
Elder law, conveyancing and property law with special interest in assisting farming clients prepare for the future.
Melissa Bourke
Melissa Bourke

She is deeply involved in the Christian Community Church on Pascal, in Palmerston North, including working with about 46 children at the church – "that takes up most of my free time" - as well as coaching school netball and mentoring high school netball players.

"Supportive law firms can offer a good mix of professional and family life." 

About five years ago Melissa was part of a group living close to an area with a lot of immigrants and refugees who found a four-hectare block of land initially earmarked for a high school but going to waste.

After approaches to the local council and the government, the group was allowed free use of the land and Crewe Community Gardens now supports about 50 families with their own gardens.

"We received a few grants over the years and now lots of different nationalities and cultures work the gardens, many of them growing vegetables we would not usually see – including big white Nepalese radishes…

"I'm not a gardener but a lot of things flourish there…"

At university Melissa wanted to "use a more creative part of my brain" and studied political science and film as well as law.

"Film is a powerful medium and very interesting but it didn't lead anywhere for me…"

Sharing her probation officer husband Piet's love of the outdoors, she enjoys camping and getting out into the bush with daughters aged 9 and 6 – "intelligent wee things" - for bike riding and tagging along on hunting trips.

"When we are with the kids we are all being children again… It's great fun…

"We love camping every summer… Piet's a keen hunter and takes the children off into the bush - they love animals…

"The girls are keen on getting rid of possums… they haven't shot a deer yet because they are cute, but they love eating them…

"I'm not a hobby person… I have a lot of professional friends at a stage of life where they pick up hobbies… the saxophone, jazz dancing…  and always trying to tempt me into their hobbies… No No…

"I like horse riding – just relaxing and hacking around – and our daughters are taking riding lessons, as well as struggling through piano lessons…"

Having earlier travelled through Canada, the United States and Mexico on a university exchange scholarship, Melissa gets a break in July to Fiji – a bonus courtesy of the firm. "I have to go to a conference on three mornings but get to take the family, so we're looking forward to that…"

There are no other lawyers in her blended family of eight siblings, although her mother thinks there may have been "back in the day…"

"I read anything that sits on a shelf and enjoy the classics, including the likes of Little Women – which my nine-year old is interested in too…

"I'm rediscovering those great books and have read Wuthering Heights again… It's amusing to read them now and see what was important when they were written…

It's no surprise that, like a number of lawyers, Melissa is a fan of crime writer Lee Child's Jack Reacher character – "but his books are not very flattering of women…"

"I drive an old 2005 Holden Astra… And if I wasn't a lawyer I would probably be a primary school teacher – I love working with kids, it's hard work but refreshing and I get a buzz from being with kids…

"Picking dinner guests is a hard one… But I would like to have a face to face with Jesus Christ and Martin Luther King – people who have changed history… It would be a really loud party and stimulating…"

A member of the New Zealand Law Society's Manawatu branch council, Melissa would like to see more lawyers come to the provinces.

"It was difficult at times for us to juggle family and my career and I have got to a pretty good place now… I have a supportive husband and supportive employers…

"When I started in the firm my youngest was two and I was allowed to work 20 hours a week - which was disruptive for the firm with people coming and going at different times and staff having to focus on you while you are there…

"The firm has been very supportive and I now do 32 and a half hours a week, from 7:30am to 2:30pm, which allows me to spend afternoons with the children…

"More firms – especially in the provinces – are supportive of a woman's desire to build a career but still have quality time with their kids… I don't know if it is the same in Auckland and Wellington where I have friends who work long hours and see their children in the car…

"There is a shortage of experienced mid-career lawyers in the provinces but supportive law firms can offer a good mix of professional and family life…

"I certainly would encourage people to the provinces, there's a lot of beautiful natural environment to supplement the hard work… We enjoy it…"

Jock Anderson has been writing and commenting on New Zealand lawyers and New Zealand's courts for most of his career in journalism. Contact Jock at

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