International Women’s Day: seven amazing stories

Katrina Reye

Juggling the dual demands of a baby and busy practice at a small firm in Newcastle, Katrina Reye didn’t have another child for seven years. Always a high achiever, Katrina had won the university medal during her law degree and worked her way up from law clerk to partner. Eight years on, she is a partner in our Property and Projects practice, advising both government and the private sector on major projects, development, property and commercial law. She has found a way to be an engaged and present parent to her two children while having the career she always set her sights on. She shares her story.


I knew early on that I wanted to get into law. I was never uncertain about what I wanted to do as a career. I was a hard worker and high achiever during school. To get into law, I needed to do well in my HSC, so I focused on my studies and achieved a result of 99.3.

I studied my law degree at Newcastle University. I enjoyed my degree, applied myself, and ended up getting the university medal. Because of this, I was offered a range of different clerkships, including some in Sydney with major firms.

But I chose to work at a small law firm based in Newcastle. I was interested in the government work the firm did, and I wanted to stay in Newcastle. By that stage I was married, and I had all my family here.

A difficult choice

I began as a legal clerk, then as a graduate. I worked my way up through to partnership and to the stage where the small firm I was at merged into Hall & Wilcox.

I now have two children – a son who’s nearly eight and a little girl who's one. It took so long for me to have another child because when my son Steele was born, I found it difficult to juggle my career and my client’s requirements in a small firm context along with childcare. While my partners at the time were very supportive, it was still difficult because I was a key person in a small, boutique firm.

I had my daughter after moving to Hall & Wilcox and went on maternity leave for around about six months. I came back on a part-time basis, and it was a completely different experience.

Being in a larger firm with a great culture, I had so much support. My partners stepped in and looked after my clients while I was away. In particular, I got fabulous help from Mark Dessi. And frankly, it just could not have happened without this help because at the time Leila was born, we were working on a major project in the social housing sector with many work streams and short deadlines.

Women and men who inspire me

There are many amazing women and men in my team in Newcastle, and in the firm more broadly, who have either supported me through my career or who I look up because of what they have achieved.

Natalie Bannister is someone who I respect and look up to in terms of the practice she has built and also how decisive and effective she is in her role. I also look up to Kathryn Howard, who does an amazing job of leading our public sector work.

Another woman I find inspiring is Valentina Misevska, who is now the CEO of the Hunter & Central Coast Development Corporation (HCCDC). It’s impressive to me that she has transformed her career from being a lawyer through to being a CEO of a significant government department.

Carmel Foster, Group Manager of Corporate Services at Port Stephens Council, has always supported me in my career and put my name forward for various opportunities. I work with her on the Hunter Chapter of the Property Council in Newcastle, and she recommended me to work in the Committee.

Being an engaged parent and running a practice

Last year, while I was on maternity leave, was probably one of the biggest years in my practice in terms of revenue and clients. Even though I am sure my clients did miss me, they were really happy with the service they received from the broader firm.

When I came back, I had my clients and the work I had been previously doing handed back to me. I have also been given other great opportunities, such as the opportunity to co-lead the public sector team in NSW. The firm has put trust in my ability to manage these roles even though they know I am working part-time. I love that I can be an engaged and present mum with my kids, but also to have the career that I’ve always wanted to have and that I enjoy.

For me personally, it's been a really positive experience to be at Hall & Wilcox while having my daughter. I think it's a real credit to the organisation because it’s quite hard to manage when a key person goes away. It is also hard to ensure when that person returns, they are occupied and fully utilised in the firm, and that all that work hasn't gone elsewhere.

I think it's a really important part of wellbeing to be able to not only have your career, but also be able to be engaged with your family and feel like you’re there for your kids as well.

Most of my team in Newcastle actually work part-time. I try to give opportunities to those women so they can be engaged in their family life but also progress their careers in an effective way. I always say they can do both. I don't feel that we should have to be one thing or the other.