By Angharad O’Flynn
Law was something that Jenna Silcock accidentally fell into.
A self-acknowledged lover of good arguments, Jenna avoided maths and sciences during her time at Christchurch’s Marian College, sticking more to English and history-related subjects.
“Law fits well with my personality and love of learning – and affinity for classic clothes and fabulous shoes. It probably came as no surprise to people who know me that law was something I would enjoy, given my love of talking and a good argument.”
The second lawyer in her family, Jenna has been with Buddle Findlay’s environment, resource management and local government team since 2008 – when she started as a summer clerk.
“My uncle was a lawyer in Whangārei but I only had the chance to meet him a few times in my life. My family have been very supportive and encouraging throughout my career and the many, many hours in the library and our home study (affectionately known as ‘the bat cave’ for its lack of natural light), during my university years.”
With a Bachelor of Arts majoring in history and geography Jenna’s geography degree complements her RMA practice.
“[The BA] gave me a really good grounding particularly in planning. I studied history because it is something I have always found interesting and I believe everyone can learn so much from an understanding of the past.”
Why did you choose to work in environment, resource management, and local government law?
“I focused on environmental and resource management law because they fitted well with my interest in geography.
“When I left High School, my geography teacher suggested a career in resource management as a planner or consultant. So, while I went down the law path, his words of wisdom led me to focus on environmental law and resource management.
“One of the things that attracted me to environmental law and resource management is the interaction with other professional disciplines and the opportunities to learn about things I would have never dreamed of. It really brings out my inner nerd!
“Resource management is a particularly challenging area of law that deals with a wide array of issues and is inherently future focused. Since joining Buddle Findlay I have been involved in some really interesting projects that have continued to hold my interest in these practice areas; including one of the first direct referrals under the Resource Management Act 1991 for a wind farm, infrastructure projects, acting for the Crown on the Christchurch Replacement Plan and various declaration proceedings.
“Resource Management is an area of law where you get opportunities to appear in court and ‘get on your feet’ early in your legal career. My local government practice sits well alongside the RM practice area and has been a natural evolution of my interest in that area.
“I also work with our wider litigation team on a range of civil litigation matters ranging from banking and finance, judicial review to construction. My civil litigation practice that has lead me to have appearances in the Court of Appeal.”
What is it like appearing in the Environment Court, High Court and Court of Appeal?
“Appearing in court was the main attraction to litigation.
“I have always enjoyed public speaking and the challenge of thinking on my feet. I have been lucky enough to appear before Council hearing panels, the Environment Court, District Court, High Court, Court of Appeal and the Independent Hearings Panel on the Christchurch Replacement Plan during my career.
“I have appeared in hearings with, and alongside, experienced barristers and solicitors and Queen's Counsel and before distinguished Judges. I still get excited and nervous by every appearance and take every one as a learning opportunity. Appearances provide an invaluable opportunity to learn by example and put your skills into practice.”
After finishing your law studies, did you find the profession matched the expectations you had while in Uni?
“I was lucky enough to spend two summers as a summer clerk with Buddle Findlay so I had a pretty good understanding of what my job would entail before I started working.
“One thing I did not fully appreciate was how no two days would be the same and how many surprises there can be in a day!
“It is one of the things I love most about my job now but when I was finding my feet it was difficult for the ‘planner’ – aka control freak – in me to get my head around. My job is what I had always hoped my career would be – interesting, challenging and above all enjoyable.
“I can honestly say, despite the sometimes unrelenting nature of the work and long hours at a desk, there have been very few days I have not wanted to go to work. I cannot remember the last time but I am sure I would be lying if I said never!”
Is there anything you wish you had been taught in law school that wasn’t covered?
“One of the things law school does not prepare students particularly well for is the art of writing for clients or the court. While it comes later in profs, I think there is real benefit in teaching and fostering these writing skills in law school. I believe this could help bridge the gap many students experience between law school and legal practice.”
Are there any issues currently facing lawyers and/or the legal system as a whole that you’d like to highlight?
“While it is not something new, I believe one of the key issues practitioners have to grapple with is managing work life balance (which is itself a misnomer).
“To me, the challenge is being responsive and providing the best service for our clients without being attached to a device 24/7.
“Technology has greatly improved working life in many respects – I have thankfully only sent one fax in my working life – and I have the ability to work from anywhere but it has its downsides too.
“Technology should be something we can use to be more productive and efficient and improve the service we provide while allowing us to have quality time outside of the office. The issue is a really personal one which will mean something different to every practitioner. However, I see it as being fundamentally important to career satisfaction, retaining outstanding lawyers and improving the mental and physical health of members of the profession.”
Can you tell me about anyone who inspires you?
“At this stage in my career and my life, I feel particularly inspired by women in the profession.
“I have been incredibly lucky in my career to have worked alongside some fiercely intelligent, professional, approachable and supportive women, and men, who have successful careers and continue to prioritise their families, friends and interests.
“My current partners, Justice Dunningham and Laura O’Gorman, are great examples in my mind of women in the profession. There are so many other women who provide inspiration. Some that come to mind are Dame Silvia Cartwright and Ruth Bader Ginsburg (RBG).
“I was lucky enough to meet Dame Silvia in my role as Head Girl at Marian College in 2005 and I still have a very clear picture of her elegance, intellect and presence.
“I watched On the Basis of Sex on the plane on the way home from China last year, with my five month old son in my lap. RBG’s tenacity, dedication, energy and passion was so well portrayed and made me excited about coming back to work and continuing my career in a new stage in my life.”
Who are three people, dead or alive, you would like to have a conversation with?
“The first person is very easy – it would be my Dad. He was an amazing role model for me and took great interest in my studies. He loved to talk about my assignments and did an amazing job with proof reading. Sadly, he did not get to see me finish my degree or graduate so I would love to spend an evening with him chatting about law, my career and life.
“Secondly, I would also love to meet Michelle Obama. I received her book as a gift on my first Mother’s Day and, by all accounts, her life has been fascinating. The drive and motivation behind her career progression and ‘changes of lane’ left a real impression on me and it is something I would love to dig a little deeper into. She will have some fascinating stories about the White House, politics and life.
“Thirdly, and this may seem a bit left field, but my final pick would be Freddie Mercury. I love Queen and Freddie was such a character in every sense of the word. He also lived in an interesting time in history in terms of societal change and attitudes, acceptance and awareness of global issues. I would love to chat to Freddie and listen to "Bohemian Rhapsody", "Fat Bottom Girls" and "Killer Queen" beside my Dad.”
Angharad O’Flynn firstname.lastname@example.org is a Wellington-based journalist.