Gemma Coutts left Whangarei as her school's head girl and has returned as a graduate in law and arts.
The 23-year-old is rapt at coming back and serving in Whangarei after a five-year hiatus during which she studied for a Bachelor in Law and Arts majoring in political science and international relations at Victoria University. She was admitted to the bar by Justice Anne Hinton in the High Court at Whangarei last week in the presence of family and friends.
Ms Coutts is the third generation of her family born in Whangarei but the only one to become a lawyer.
"I've always been interested in law and more widely in political science and international relations and that's why I took history and social science in school," said the former head girl of Whangarei Girls' High School.
After an attachment at Whangarei law firm Henderson Reeves Connell Rishworth in the summer of 2013/14, she landed a permanent job in the firm's civil and litigation team last month.
Ms Coutts is most interested in employment and family law and is keen to work overseas at some point to gain work experience. She still has a large support network in Whangarei even though her parents moved to Auckland a couple of years ago and her younger brother is in his final year in university. "It's nice to come back home and be working here after all these years studying in Wellington."
She believes women have a bright future in law and urged those wishing to become lawyers to give it a go.
"Talk to your teachers in school or to any lawyer you know. It's inspiring to see female lawyers and judges serving their communities throughout the country," she said.
Stuart Henderson, a director of Henderson Reeves Connell Rishworth, said his firm contacted Ms Coutts a couple of months ago as it wanted another solicitor for its dispute resolution/litigation team. He said her clerkship coincided with the firm's involvement supporting the High Court challenge to the Kaipara District Council's rates by the Mangawhai Ratepayers and Residents' Association and she relished working with senior lawyers on that case.