New Zealand Law Society - How "girls can do anything" feminism carved mum's path to Bar

How "girls can do anything" feminism carved mum's path to Bar

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By Jock Anderson 

Brianna Claire (Brianna) Parkinson
Entry to law
Graduated Canterbury University LLB 1997. Admitted 1998. 
Barrister sole in Southern Cross Chambers, Auckland. 
Speciality area
Resource management, environmental, local government and public law.
Brianna Parkinson
Brianna Parkinson

Inspired by her Epsom Girls’ Grammar School history teacher to take up law and prove “girls can do anything”, barrister Brianna Parkinson first became a top road cyclist and married a drummer in an alternative rock band.

Born in the small south Auckland farming town of Waiuku, Brianna began her legal career with Buddle Findlay in Christchurch, learning the ropes in local government law, property and the Resource Management Act.

This was followed by five years as in-house counsel with Auckland City Council - at the time of the super city amalgamation - two years working with QC Matthew Casey and two more years with Simpson Grierson before joining Southern Cross Chambers as a barrister sole.

“There were no lawyers in our family. We were solid working class, into market gardening and manufacturing.

“I was of a generation of young women taking advantage of the groundwork of the feminists and the slogan that girls can do anything.

“Until going to the independent Bar I largely worked for local authorities. The Bar is a challenge but knowing how local authorities think is an advantage.

“It’s an exciting time to be a resource management specialist – with the proposed unitary plan and rapid urban growth in Auckland – and I was interested in acting for the developers and community groups trying to influence how Auckland grows.”

Having three daughters aged from ten to five has influenced how her career has developed.

Married to civil engineer Michael Kwok – a drummer in split-up band Drill - Brianna made a deliberate decision to work part-time, generally three days a week, and have a better family balance.

“Having children you have to chose between trying to continue with a full career or accept that your career is going to advance more slowly. The balance is not doing a disservice to either the client or the family.

“I call it working round the edges and find I can do equal service to both.

“Sometimes it’s the luck of how things work out but having a flexible employer helps. Having someone who has successfully managed part time work in a senior role is also a good model to junior women lawyers.

“Team work between your employer, partner and work is important.”

Now in what she calls a “new phase” with her youngest daughter starting school, Brianna and Michael are giving up having nannies and are juggling home life around a daughter who swims four days a week, one who dances three days and a 5-year-old who swims and wants to learn karate.

In pre-school years she took all children to playcentre and took part in a parents co-operative. She has done yoga a number of years for relaxation and says it is good for lawyers because it helps manage stress and is a good form of exercise.

Which is a far cry from her high school and university competitive road cycling days when she rode to gold at national level and raced with contemporaries such as Olympic champion Sarah Ulmer and Commonwealth Games medallist Susy Pryde.

Two cases which stand out are her junior roles in the High Court challenge to Auckland Council’s controversial prostitution bylaw and Auckland’s Wynyard Quarter plan change.

Brianna wrote the council submissions in the prostitution bylaw case, which was lost when the High Court ruled the bylaw was unreasonable because of blanket exclusion provisions and quashed it.

“It was interesting putting into practice the theory I had been writing for years and followed on from work I had been doing in Christchurch, looking at smoking and boy racer bylaws.

“Councils were testing how far they could go in making bylaws.

“The Wynyard Quarter decision, confirming the master plan for the redevelopment of Wynyard Quarter, demonstrated that planning law can dramatically reshape our urban environment and I could have a role in that process.”

Her summertime reading was Nigel Fardale’s The Blasphemer and Ben Elton’s Time & Time Again. “Both good page turners and great holiday escapism.”

“I’m not much into music but when I met husband Michael at 16 through cycling, he was a drummer in alternative rock band and I was a groupie. He is still drumming and trying to re-form a band.

“We got passed by with the switch to digital TV and it took us two months to figure out we couldn’t get TV anymore. But there’s always Lightbox.

“If I was encouraging a young woman into law I would say it is a challenging career you can successfully combine with family.

“A lot of thought is going into retaining women and moving them into higher levels … but is that what women want?

“What is your measure of success? Mine is not necessarily making partnership or making the Bench … My measure is being able to combine family and career and doing both of them justice…” 

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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