“Dunedin has a unique legal culture. I think it is the links to the university and collegiality that makes networks work,” Otago Women Lawyers’ Society (OWLS) Convenor Kate O’Boyle says.
Ms O’Boyle – who graduated in 2008 from Otago University and joined OWLS when she started practising – says the main focus of the society is the promotion of women in the law and to provide events for members, both social and career-orientated.
OWLS – which was founded in 1986 and has about 80 members – holds major events such as the New Zealand Law Foundation Ethel Benjamin address. Last year it had Justice Winkelmann speak to members on access to justice, which generated a lot of public interest. “It’s about getting a discussion happening and providing a supportive network for that.”
Ms O’Boyle says the society has started a new mentoring programme called Wise Owls, where experienced practitioners can pass on their experience and knowledge to others.
The initiative means practitioners can meet as a group to discuss a topic of interest ranging from legal practice issues to work-life balance, or seek out confidential mentoring.
“This has brought the more experienced members back to the society because they can give something back to the other members and that’s really strengthened the network.
“There has been a lot of discussion about women in the profession, particularly about the appointment of women as QCs and women on boards, along with trends coming through in research. For us it’s about opening up the discussion and creating a dialogue. Instead of focusing on the problem, it’s about looking to where we go to next. At a local level we want to keep that discussion going and provide a supportive network for our members,” Ms O’Boyle says.
Looking to the future
One of this year’s efforts will involve strengthening links with the university and generating student membership.
“It gives them an opportunity to network with potential employers and to practise networking in a relatively supportive and safe environment.
“I must say from personal experience, the Dunedin profession and OWLS are very supportive of new practitioners and I think that comes back to the close link with the university.”