International Women’s Day 2021: amazing stories

Kathryn Howard

Kathryn Howard believes that asking ‘What qualities can I bring into the day today?’ helps her to be a better lawyer. That, and the love of her two horses and an adored rescue greyhound, Tommy. She sees understanding of and empathy for clients and colleagues as being hugely important, confident that such simple day-to-day interactions can be instrumental in helping to empower those around her. She shares her story.

Hall & Wilcox Partner, Kathryn Howard with horse at a stable
Kathryn Howard

I long nurtured dreams of being a lawyer, and my life in the law is truly blessed. For me, the intellectual challenge of applying law to businesses and individuals is a real calling. I’m particularly drawn to disputes because of its focus on the application of law to solve problems. It’s that intersection of the state and the (human or corporate) citizen and their real-life issues that I find deeply fascinating.

I am the first generation in my family to finish high school. My parents sold shoes, and I am here today because they saw value in education – and others saw value in teaching and mentoring me along this path. My dad was selling shoes to a customer who is a barrister, and boasting about the First Class Honours I’d received for my first law assignment the day before. That barrister offered Dad her card and suggested I call her, as she was keen to mentor women in the law. Jennifer Batrouney QC is still my mentor today. Decades later, I marvel that she would give her time like that to a first-year law student who she had no connection with.

Jenny was the first of many more remarkable mentors throughout my career, not least the Honourable Justice Kyrou QC of the Court of Appeal of the Supreme Court of Victoria. To this day, I teach juniors the lessons the (now) Judge taught me as a baby lawyer at Mallesons. I see a core part of my role as teaching the next generation coming through.

Empowering women

One of the silver linings of the COVID-19 cloud is that it has normalised working at home. That’s been very empowering. It’s a more level playing field when everyone has to dial in remotely. It’s also taken away the stress of parents having to dash out of the office to do an early afternoon school pick up.

Of course, the Stage 4 lockdown in Melbourne presented other challenges. For example, I couldn’t find a female barrister to brief on a particular matter during Melbourne’s stage four lockdown because of a lack of childcare. I didn’t receive that response from any male barrister I contacted.

I heard someone remark recently that it is sometimes the men who seem to be leading the charge back to working in the office, while women are often saying: ‘No, this flexibility has been great. Let’s not revert to the old ways.’ That’s a really interesting observation. I believe we need to actively promote behaviours that empower people’s individual choices, regardless of gender, to feel connected to work in a way that facilitates longevity in the law.

Today’s challenges

I find the single hardest thing in the law is its intensity, and the challenge of balancing that intensity with other life priorities. What those life priorities are differ from person to person, but all are equally important, irrespective of gender. It’s about what’s core to a person’s identity, and by extension their well-being.

For me, it’s living on the land with my horses and Tommy. For others it is their children, golf, music – the list goes on. I believe a rewarding and long life in the law requires us to identify what aspects of our life are core to our wellbeing and to not betray that for a successful life in law. That takes active balance.

I am proud to be at a firm that seeks to empower its people to achieve their balance – however each person defines it. Our commitment to flexible working and the Evolve program are institutional ways that Hall & Wilcox seeks to empower each of us to lead whole, rewarding lives inside and outside the law.

Healthy minds

Integral to living a whole life is mental wellbeing. I feel incredibly privileged to have served as a director of R U OK? for almost 10 years now. I am inspired and impressed by the extraordinary competence and empathy of CEO Katherine Newton and Chair Mike Connaghan and the wonderful team that supports them.

It is a powerful message, that is gentle too. We can all notice behavioural changes, we can all check in with each other and we can all listen without judgment. We aren’t ashamed when our leg is broken, nor should we be ashamed when suffering mentally either. I look forward to the day when that is so.