Five minutes with CWLA Convenor Vivienne Wilson

LawNews recently spoke to the Convenor of the Canterbury Women’s Legal Association (CWLA), Vivienne Wilson, with some questions about how she came to be involved in CWLA and what is on the Association’s agenda in the region.

Vivienne Wilson

What prompted you to go into law?

At high school, I enjoyed speaking in front of people. I didn’t worry when it was speech time in English. I rather enjoyed it. I also had an inspirational English teacher at Wellington Girls’ College who really pushed us, so I was thinking about doing law from about age 15 or 16. On the shallow level, I loved watching “LA Law”! It seemed so glamorous. I didn’t think anything of the fact that they could receive a new instruction, prepare for court, and appear all on the same day!

Tell me about your current job and what gets you excited about it?

I am a lawyer in the Christchurch City Council legal team. I provide advice on governance and regulatory matters. There is never a dull moment being a local government lawyer. New matters come across your desk every day and you get to be involved in decisions that affect members of the public every day too. As with any job, it can be very demanding at times, but I also get a huge feeling of satisfaction when a project or policy has been completed. I really enjoy that aspect of working in-house, because you are part of the team that makes things happen. And that’s the other part of my job that I love – we have a very talented, collegial legal team here at Christchurch City Council. We are all very experienced and it is a pleasure to work with these other lawyers.

What has been your experience as a woman in the profession?

Over my 25 years in the profession, I have experienced or been exposed to a number of behaviours that, on reflection, I think – why did I put up with that? Why didn’t I say something? I’m pleased about what has happened this year and that we can talk about these things in the open. But I want to see behaviour changing.

On the other hand, before I joined Christchurch City Council, I worked in private practice for a partner who was extremely supportive of mothers working flexibly. It was a bit of “give and take” on both sides to make things work, but it did work really well. At the firm, I was also able to change my working arrangements when my children became a bit older. I think this is incredibly important as children’s needs change over time, and what worked when they were toddlers doesn’t necessarily work when they are at high school. So you need to keep an open mind about these things.

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned (thus far, in your career/life)?

Recently, I was at a CWLA event, where our guest speaker talked about the values she had abided by during her career. This really resonated with me. She said:

  • work hard and make sure you are competent in your profession;
  • act with integrity; and
  • treat everybody with dignity and respect.

I don’t think you can go wrong with having these three guiding principles.

Of what achievement are you most proud (personal and/or professional)?

Well, it goes without saying that I am most proud of my two fabulous teenage daughters! Every day, I think they are amazing. Life seems to be a lot more complicated than when I was a teenager in the 1980s.

In terms of professional achievements, over the course of my career I have been involved in lots of projects and providing different pieces of advice. It’s hard to pick out any one thing, but there is one project which comes to mind. Here at Christchurch City Council, we re-wrote the Council’s delegations register in 2015. It was a huge task because of the size of the organisation and the number of statutes, regulations and rules that the Council acts under – and must comply with – every day. However, the Council resolved the new register at the end of 2015, and it has proved to be a successful document. Whilst this may sound a little dry to some people (and hardly “LA Law”), I am proud of my work on the document, as it is an integral part of the Council’s operations on a daily basis.

When/why did you first join CWLA?

I first joined the CWLA in 2014. Although my husband and I moved to Christchurch in 2007, I hadn’t had much time to meet many lawyers in town. Our children were only little when we moved here, and then there was the matter of the earthquakes … . But one of the first events I attended was the CWLA Professional Women’s Conference, and I was blown away. Beatrice Mtetwa was the keynote speaker. She is also one of Zimbabwe’s most prominent human rights lawyers and a defender of the rule of law.

I subsequently attended a few more events and, in 2015, I became a committee member. Last year, I took on the role of Convenor. We had a gap, and I thought, “I can do this role.” It’s good to push beyond your comfort zone. Plus, we are so lucky with our CWLA committee members. They are a group of hard-working women who believe in our organisation’s objects and really do try to make a difference.

What developments have you seen over the past few years?

The CWLA has grown in size over the last three to four years. We have approximately 180 members, with practitioners in a wide range of disciplines. This makes for an exciting and invigorating organisation.

Because our membership has grown, we have tried to keep in touch regularly with our members by holding popular events, forwarding interesting and relevant information, and responding to requests for members (such as our upcoming mentoring programme).

What (if any) challenges/issues is the Association hoping to address over the coming months?

Our big event for the year is the Professional Women’s Conference on 30 August 2018, “Shoot for the Stars”. We are also kick-starting our “Lunch and Learn” programme, a mentoring programme, as well as a new website. So things are looking very busy for the second half of this year.

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