Alison Souness is the new president of the NewZealand Law Society Hawke's Bay branch. The partner at Hastings law firm Souness Stone talks to Mark Story about her
inspiration - and what drives her
1 What is the primary function of the local branch of the Law Society?
The local branch council has an important role. We promote collegiality within the local legal practices, promote relationships with the judiciary, Ministry of Justice and other stakeholders, we vote and make submissions on matters at a national level, interview candidates to be admitted to the bar, provide education to local practitioners, keep an eye out for members needing support and generally represent local lawyers' interests.
2 Given its oversight in terms of lawyer conduct, is it tough in a relatively small region for the society to police its own?
Thankfully complaints aren't that common when one considers the volume of work being done. A few years ago, regulations changed so that complaints aren't always dealt with locally these days. I'm not on the standards committee currently because I'm the branch president. In the past when I was around the table dealing with complaints, it was quite straightforward in one way. Being a lawyer is a privilege and it is disappointing when one of your own does something that brings the whole profession into disrepute. If we don't hold our own to account then we risk the public, probably justifiably, losing confidence in all of us.
3 Is there one lawyer/barrister who has influenced you the most in your career?
When I was at high school I went to a local law firm for my careers day. We lived in Balclutha. The senior partner there told me that he had never met a good woman lawyer. He did say, doubtfully, that he supposed there might be some. I can still remember feeling so cross about it. Naturally I went straight home and announced that I was definitely going to be a lawyer now. He did me a favour of course. There is nothing like telling a 16-year-old that they won't be good at something to make them work hard to prove you wrong.
In terms of lawyers who have influenced me in my 23 of years of practice, I have been lucky enough to work with lots of talented and committed lawyers over the years locally and further afield. I guess they have all influenced me to an extent. If I had to choose one - she will be embarrassed by me saying this - it would have to be my friend, Dinah Kennedy. When we first arrived in the Bay, I met Dinah and could see from her that it was possible for a woman to have a really good legal career, be very involved with her family and to contribute to her community. She quickly became a good friend and probably owes me a bottle of Cornerstone's best now.
4 With the inherent acrimony associated with family law and arbitration, what do you do to stay sane?
Family Court litigators push hard for our clients when we have to, sometimes in pretty difficult circumstances. At the end of the day, we are all in this together so it is pretty unusual for lawyers in the Hawke's Bay bar to hold personal grudges against one another. Because children are often at the centre of the disputes, we all try hard to sort things out short of a court hearing. A good mediated settlement is usually the best outcome because the parents have to leave the courtroom and still parent the shared children as well as they can. It gets harder to do that after a court hearing. Having said all of that, it is a stressful job. Sanity is protected by good friends and family. When we moved here 20 years ago, we didn't have any family living locally. My parents now live here for some months each year and we have finally enticed some family to shift down from Auckland, which we are really enjoying. In the busy early years when we were establishing our business and were juggling a busy home life we were so lucky to discover our own Hawke's Bay adopted whanau. We met when our kids were pre-schoolers and they are all still such an important part of our lives. I can never discuss my work with them, of course, but there has been many a stressful week lightened by morning coffee with my girlfriends.
5 Some say poets are society's "silent legislators". Do you agree? And who is your favourite New Zealand poet?
Sadly I don't think poets are the great influence on society these days that they were when that quote was first uttered. Perhaps it is the Kardashians now. My favourite New Zealand poet is Hone Tuwhare. I studied him at university as part of my English degree. Hone Tuwhare lived at Kaka Point which is the beach of my childhood so I was always especially interested in him. He was a genius.