Admitted to the bar in 2015, Helen Radersma’s first job as a lawyer is at her current place of practice, Gawith Burridge’s Masterton office. However, that’s not to say that Helen doesn’t have a lot of experience working in the legal sector; She spent many years studying and then working as a patent attorney, a job which took her around the world.
Tell me a bit about yourself
“I was born in Suffolk, in the UK but we emigrated to New Zealand when I was young. I spent most of my childhood growing up in Wellington.
“My teenage years were in the 1980s, so it was very different to what it is now.
“School wise at that time, for a while, I wanted to do an MA in languages and join Foreign Affairs. I changed that fairly quickly though when I started to do science. I still did languages, but I studied chemistry and that’s what I ended up doing for my first degree.”
Helen completed her first bachelor’s degree at Canterbury University, and after finishing there she moved to Auckland and completed a Masters and a PhD in chemistry. “It was interesting and challenging and I found I liked doing research. It was also an intellectually stimulating environment.”
Upon finishing her PhD, she did a post-doctoral research fellowship at Virginia Commonwealth University in the United States, explaining “it was the thing to do back then”.
When did you decide to become a lawyer?
After some time working in America, Helen returned to New Zealand and worked at Otago University doing research. “While there I got to learn a bit about what patent attorneys do…and I decided being a patent attorney would be something I wanted to pursue.”
“I made the move and applied for a job at a patent attorney firm.” She got the job and completed her patent attorney qualifications on a part-time basis while working, “There were half a dozen exams. I don’t know what it’s like now, but the exams back then were quite hard,” she says, laughing.
Focusing mostly on chemical and pharmaceutical patents, her hard work paid off and she became a patent attorney, initially working in private practice in New Zealand and later in-house in Singapore for a time.
“Basically, how I ended up doing the law was that I studied part time. I kind of came through the back door.”
Eventually, after years working as a patent attorney, Helen and her husband moved to Masterton after just before she was admitted to the bar in 2015. “The decision to transition from patent to general practice was partly a lifestyle choice conscious decision. Now I’m quite different; I’m mostly doing general practice work.”
What differences have you noticed between patent attorney work and working as a lawyer?
“On the patent side, there is an overlay of technical knowledge that you have to have, there are certain ways of approaching things. But on the other side with general practice there is a variety of things to learn when you’re first starting out. The variety has a level of appeal, but both can provide a good intellectual challenge.”
How was the transition from patent attorney work to working as a lawyer?
“I wanted to work in a firm that’s part of the community. I like the idea that this is a local firm and I can get to know local people.”
The transition was not too difficult: “If you have a methodical, logical training, which science gives you, you can apply that to the legal side of things. I think there is more of a crossover than I originally thought.”
Gawith Burridge is Helen’s first general practice job and she has been there for just over two years. “My first [legal] job was as a trainee patent attorney but this is my first job as a lawyer, I suppose.”
“There are differences between being a specialist and a general practice lawyer but both are interesting and challenging career choices.”
In her down time, Helen and her husband like socialising and the lifestyle block they live on provides lots of outdoor work. “We don’t have any stock, but I do have chickens, although unfortunately one was recently murdered by a stoat!”
“We both really like travel so if we can get away for an overseas trip we will do that.”