New Zealand Law Society - Youth mentoring role for cat-adopting ex-grid girl

Youth mentoring role for cat-adopting ex-grid girl

This article is over 3 years old. More recent information on this subject may exist.

Jenna Heerdegen
Jenna Heerdegen

As a Crown Prosecutor dealing with troubled young people in court, Tauranga lawyer Jenna Heerdegen was moved to do something to nip bad behaviour in the bud.

She became involved as a youth mentor with the Graeme Dingle Foundation’s Project K, which is active in schools around New Zealand.

“Project K is a 14-month programme for Year 10 students – six boys and six girls. The last 12 months is the mentoring stage,” says Jenna, who was recently promoted to associate at Holland Beckett Law, Tauranga, where she specialises in family law.

Jenna Ann (Jenna) Heerdegen
Entry to law
Graduated LLB, BA (majoring in screen and media studies from Waikato University in 2009. Admitted in 2010.
Associate at Holland Beckett Law, Tauranga.
Speciality area.
Family law.


“I have mentored three girls over the last three years. The programme helps them build confidence and resilience. They are kids who have potential and need a little more support.

“I got into that from being a Crown Prosecutor and seeing young people coming through the courts. It made me think if we put in the effort with young people now we can stop that behaviour. I think you have to nip it in the bud.”

The convenor for Tauranga and Rotorua of the Waikato Bay of Plenty Women in Law Association, Jenna is busy organising events for women practitioners in the area, including an upcoming event on communicating with confidence.

“The Association covers a big area, including Hamilton, Tauranga, Rotorua and Whakatane and involves a lot of practitioners. This year the theme is wellness.

“I work between the firm’s Tauranga and Rotorua offices so I organise that area. About 50 women turn up to each event. Holland Beckett Law have been very good supporters and they sponsoring the upcoming event.”

Motor racing and a small film role

A former grid girl (female hostess at motor racing events) when Hamilton hosted street racing, Jenna decided at university she wanted to another degree, a BA, that was quite different to law. “To break it up a bit. I was always into speech and drama at school.”

“When I was studying I worked for a talent agency doing promotional work and a little bit of acting as an extra – but never any starring roles. I was an extra in a yoghurt commercial, filmed in Hamilton, for the UK. And in a German film shot in Rotorua. It was quite good money on the side.

“I have always practised in family law and with a stint as a Crown Prosecutor. I was lucky to do family law and prosecuting at Hollister-Jones Lellman, who had the Crown warrant in Tauranga.

“Doing the Crown work gave me good litigation and court experience. I got to appear in the District Court, High Court, Youth Court, doing jury trials, sentencing. That was really fun. But I have always enjoyed family law and that is where my passion is.”

Jenna’s father Barry, who owned a car yard for about 40 years in Hamilton, and where her mother Diane looked after the accounts, recently sold up as he moved towards retirement.

Her parents also have a 70-acre dry stock farm on the outskirts of Hamilton, where Jenna grew up. Her brother Richard works in Port Headland, Australia, driving road trains, and her sister Melissa lives in Byron Bay, Australia, where she and her husband have an organic fruit and vegetable business.

With no other lawyers in the family she is also the first person in her immediate family to go to university.

Last year she married Sean Murray, a territory manager for Griffins food company – “we get a lot of chocolate biscuits to try”. Sean has also been a disc jockey for about 20 years and plays the local bars on Friday and Saturday nights.

“That’s his passion. He loves making music round the clubs and pubs. One of the rooms in our house is taken up with his studio.

“I am into fitness, especially circuit training, and have been doing that for a year, going to the gym five or six mornings a week. I play indoor netball in a mixed work team and also play for another netball team.

“My whole life up until 6th form I wanted to be a vet. I love animals and living on a farm I pretty much had every sort of animal you can think of.

“At school I did all the sciences up to 6th form when I realised I was much better at English and writing so I decided law was probably a better avenue for me.

“I didn’t really know a lot about what being a lawyer entailed because there were no lawyers in the family. But I had a good careers guidance counsellor at our school and he pointed me in that direction.

“I thought about TV and film production doing my BA but I thought being a lawyer was a good mix.

“At school I had some stints at learning the piano, saxophone and the guitar but never really stuck with it. It wasn’t for me but I did want to play in a band.”

Vinyl collector

“I like all kinds of music, old school, funky, R&B. My favourite band is Fat Freddys Drop. And I have lots of vinyl, which I prefer now I am married to a DJ – it’s much superior.

“There’s not a lot of time for reading. When I’m not at work I’m at the gym, playing sport or on hikes. I love the outdoors. I don’t like crime novels, they are too related to work.

“I’m reading through the Outlander books and watched the television series, set mainly in Scotland.

“If Sean has a night off we like going to the movies – we are both into Avenger and X Men. I’ve seen the most recent Avengers movie and the Elton John one, which was really good.”

Unlike many young lawyers, Jenna is keeping her world travel until the time is right. “I haven’t done much travelling yet. I have been more focused on work. I have been to Bali and the Pacific Islands.

“I need to do Europe and am waiting for the right time. I have never been one of those people who wanted to do a two-year OE stint living off the bones of my butt.

“The family have a bach at Whitianga, and we have been lucky get to go there every summer. Dad has a boat and we go round to Cathedral Cove and Hahei marine reserve and go snorkelling.

“There’s also another family bach at Tinopai, on Kaipara Harbour, with access on a private road, where I have lots of cool childhood memories.

The cat with two names

“We have a black, fluffy cat whose public name is Teddy and his home name is Golly. He was a stray who turned up at our house about two years ago and never seemed to leave.

“He got persistent about coming into the house and on the bed. He made the decision he wanted to live at our house.

“We put him in the lost pet pages but no one claimed him. I put a little note on him thinking maybe if he went home his owners would ring and tell us. After eight months we adopted him.

“My car is a Holden Captiva 4x4, which I bought from my brother to help him out when he moved to Australia.

“I’d like to have Albert Einstein round for dinner. I’ve been watching documentaries about him and he is fascinating. I find the whole concept of space and time, the theory of relativity, really interesting.

“Growing up on a beef farm I ate steak. Sean pretty much does the cooking in our house so we would have steak and salad. At the moment we are getting My Food Bag, which is easy, good and we don’t have to think about meals.

“If I wasn’t a lawyer I probably still would want to be a vet. I love working with animals. It’s a long and hard degree. I know people who have done it, tried it and failed and done it again.”

Over a long career in journalism Jock Anderson has spent many hours in courtrooms and talking to members of the legal profession. He can be contacted at

Lawyer Listing for Bots